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Suns' Vanos Among Victims in Detroit Jet Crash : Popular Center, 24, Was Expected to Be a Starter for Phoenix Next Season

August 18, 1987|Associated Press

Phoenix Suns center Nick Vanos, a crowd favorite and a candidate to start next season, was among those killed Sunday in the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 near Detroit, a team spokesperson said Monday.

Up to 156 people died in the second-worst single-plane crash in U.S. history.

"We are stunned, shocked and deeply saddened at the loss of Nick Vanos," Suns General Manager Jerry Colangelo said in a statement. "It's just a terrible shock when a young man loses his life at such an early age.

"Nick recently appeared to be coming into his own, and to have his life taken away at this time is a tragedy to his family, friends and to our organization," Colangelo said.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jetliner in which Vanos, 24, was a passenger crashed and burned Sunday night after taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport on a flight bound for Phoenix and Orange County's John Wayne Airport. Authorities said everyone aboard died on impact or of injuries suffered in the fire that followed.

Vanos' father, Peter, said his son had spent four days in Plymouth, Mich., vacationing with a friend.

He said he hadn't talked with his son since Tuesday, when the Suns completed play in the Southern California Summer League, which some National Basketball Assn. teams use to give rookies, free agents and other young players extra experience.

The Suns traded William Bedford this year before the NBA college draft in part because of Vanos' late-season development. The Suns' other center, James Edwards, faces trial this fall on cocaine conspiracy charges. Other centers at the Suns' camp included Leon Bass and Ozell Jones.

Vanos, 7 feet 2 inches and 260 pounds, starred at the University of Santa Clara and was the Suns' second-round draft pick in 1985. He was the first 7-foot player drafted by the Phoenix franchise.

He saw limited action during his rookie season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, which forced him to sit out 70 games, and was used sparingly last season until injuries to Edwards and Bedford.

During his two-year career with the Suns, Vanos averaged 3.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 68 games, with a career-high of 14 points against the Sacramento Kings April 14 and a career-high 13 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers earlier that month.

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