Thurman Munson left a half-smoked cigar in his Mercedes at Akron-Canton Airport on the afternoon of Aug. 2, 1979. He didn't lock the car. He had just wanted to check on and admire his new Cessna Citation twin-engine jet, the $1.25-million craft with N15NY painted on the tail.
But when he ran into his friends Jerry Anderson, a developer and fellow licensed pilot, and Dave Hall, a flight instructor, he simply could not resist. As Marty Appel writes in the new book, "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain," the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player said, "Let's take it up."
It was a day off for the team, and instead of having left Chicago with the Yankees the previous night, Munson had flown home (having borrowed $200 for fuel from Bobby Murcer).
Munson took off at 3:41 p.m. and never made it back to runway one-nine. After he made several passes around runway two-three, on which he had planned on landing, the control tower requested that he turn left instead of right onto one-nine. The Cessna started losing altitude, so Munson tried to accelerate, Anderson told ESPN in a lengthy interview in 2004.
Edward McAvoy, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said a power failure in the Cessna had caused the crash. The NTSB released a full accident report in September 1979, citing Munson's "improper use of throttles and flight controls." It added that he had made too low an approach, neglected to maintain an appropriate speed, failed to lower the landing gear and did not use the right protocol to recover from a low approach.
In his account to ESPN, Anderson - who, like Hall, suffered burns - recalled the plane hitting a clump of trees and smashing into a stump, which he thought critically injured Munson.
The right side of the craft caught fire and smoke filled the cabin as Anderson and Hall tried to get Munson through the emergency exit, but he could not be rescued. A coroner's report said Munson's neck was broken and his spine damaged.
Immediately after impact, Anderson recalled, Munson asked his passengers, "Are you guys OK?" When they asked him if he was OK, Munson told them, "I don't know. I can't move. I can't move."
The official cause of death: asphyxiation resulting from inhalation of superheated air and toxic substances. His body was burned beyond recognition.