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1960 Cal Poly plane crash survivors recall life and death in Toledo

COLUMN ONE

The football team had traveled to Ohio and lost. They would return to San Luis Obispo with even bigger losses: 16 players were among those who died in the crash.

October 29, 2010|By Diane Pucin

"I was lucky, though. I met my wife, Marian, and she straightened me out. I have three daughters, my son and 10 grandkids. I always look forward to seeing the guys. But I miss the other ones terribly."

"I think I remember the fall. I don't remember the hit."

Don Adams is snatching at memories, some still vivid, some not.

"I bled so much, they said I was dead," Adams says, his voice thick with emotion. "Then someone double-checked me and said, 'No, there's something there.' I remember hot hands on me and the doctors saying, 'He won't live to morning.' That's in my subconscious somewhere.

"I kept telling everybody I felt fine and I tried to show everyone I was fine. I was not."

Adams played guard for the Mustangs. At 25, he was a little older than most of his teammates, having served in the Army. He was finishing his senior season. He suffered head and neck injuries but remembers nothing of the crash.

"I'm very surprised to have lived this long," he says. "I'm happy for that and I am very sad for our friends that didn't get to continue in life to become parents or to see their grandkids. I have three children and eight grandchildren, and my friends — they didn't get that.

"When you grow up kind of a poor boy, you get a lot of those heartaches, jabs, whatever you call them in life," says Adams, who married his college sweetheart, Shirlee, and lives in Modesto. "And I have since loved my life. I became a teacher and a coach. How can I have regrets? I have a life."

Bob Bostrom, then 30, had never been an athlete. He lived on campus in a university house, a job perk. That Saturday, he had the radio on and decided to take a nap.

"I was semiconscious when I heard something about the crash," he says. "I thought I should get up and listen, and pretty soon the phone rang. It was a reporter from Detroit asking if I knew who was on the plane."

Bostrom knew them all.

"I had the unhappy task both of receiving their belongings from the plane crash and from their rooms," he says.

Bostrom took over part of Crandall Gym. "I hung all the things," he says, "and when relatives arrived, I would take them in and if the relative could identify something I would give it to them.

"When I went to the dorm rooms there was a wreath on each door — not a flowery wreath but a very somber wreath in purple. It was a very distressing moment."

One player sticks in Bostrom's mind. Ray Porras was 27, the oldest player. "He had four kids," Bostrom says, his voice cracking. "It was Monday before we got definitive information. Those poor kids."

They were watching "Bonanza" that Saturday night, the four daughters of fullback Ray Porras.

Diana, then 7 and the oldest, can still recall the bulletin that interrupted the program. There had been a plane crash. Her dad's football team was on the plane.

"My mother was in the kitchen and I went in to tell her," Diana Owings says. "My mother was always a very private and stoic person and at that moment she was stoic. I think she was trying to protect us."

Dorothy Porras is 75 now and has never spoken publicly about her husband's death. "We try to protect her from that," Owings says.

The family is still close. Owings lives in Brea. One sister, Kathy Zaragoza, 55, lives in La Habra. The others, Eileen Lozano, 52, and Rebecca Porras, 50, are in Fullerton.

Their dad, who wanted to be a coach, was from East Los Angeles and the first in his family to go to college. "Our life at that time was idyllic," Owings says.

When Cal Poly dedicated the plaza memorial at the school stadium, the daughters went.

Not Dorothy. She couldn't.

The daughters will be there Saturday.

"We get to hear stories about my dad," Diana says, as if needing to explain.

Al Marinai loved hitting people on the football field. He had come to Cal Poly as an all-city guard out of San Francisco.

"I loved the NFL forever," Marinai says. "I was going to be in the NFL. When I was a kid, football was nothing to my family, but it was one of those things I did pretty well. So, what are you going to do?"

In the last game he played, the loss to Bowling Green, football great Lou Groza was in the stands scouting him for the Cleveland Browns. Or so Marinai was told. "I played good too," Marinai says.

He was one of the most severely injured survivors. He had compound fractures in his legs and back and has spent his life with a brace on one leg.

"It seemed like the school and everybody forgot us," Marinai says. "Maybe they wanted to forget."

But Marinai will be on campus Saturday.

"I was a young kid with a lot of dreams and I didn't get to have those dreams," he said. "But there are 18 heroes who didn't come back. I miss them."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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