WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Ric Flair said it best about himself: "The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a gun!"
The women loved him. The men wanted to be like him. Ric Flair, and arguably Ric Flair alone, helped launch what is better known today as "sports entertainment." Flair's charismatic microphone skills, and in-ring moves and antics helped move wrestling shows from small ballrooms, to sold out arenas around the globe.
It's hard to imagine what sports entertainment would be like today if Flair weren't around. Years ago, right here in Wilmington, that could have very well been the case.
Wilmington's Legion Stadium was sold out that night. October 4th, 1975. Five thousand fans gathered around the squared circle to see a show featuring guys like Johnny Valentine, Bob Bruggers, Wahoo McDaniel, and a young up-and-comer named Ric Flair.
Just minutes before the show started, across town, R.C. Shackelford was on his way to the New Hanover County Airports (now, ILM). At the time he was the airport's assistant manager. All of the sudden, he heard on his radio information about a plane that had gone down near the runway. Shackelford raced to the intersection of Gordon Road and North 23rd Street. He was one of the first ones to view the badly damaged Cessna.
"There were four or five very large men in the aircraft," said Shackelford. "They were in a considerable amount of pain."
Suffering from multiple injuries were, Johnny Valentine, Bob Bruggers, Tim Woods and 24-year-old, Ric Flair. Also injured, was wrestling announcer, David Crockett, and the pilot, Joseph Farkas. About an hour earlier, they had departed from Charlotte and were on their way to the show in Wilmington.
"We ran out of gas at 4000 feet," said Flair. "We landed and crashed right into the railroad embankment a half mile from the runway."
An NTSB report shows that Farkas miscalculated the amount of fuel he was supposed to put in the plane. Farkas would be the only one to succumb to his injuries. He ended up in a coma and died a year later.
After getting all of the men out of the plane, Shackelford remembers the enormous number of onlookers.
"About the only folks we didn't see were the inmates from the prison across the street," said Shackleford. "I imagine they would have been there if they could get out."
Back at Legion Stadium, a young wrestling fan named Sean Hudson was sitting ringside.
"The local announcer for the matches came to the ring and said there was a plane crash and it involved some of the wrestlers," said Hudson.
The show went on, but without some of its top performers. Some of those involved in the plane crash suffered broken backs and would never step in the ring again.
Even with a broken back, Flair was one of the fortunate ones. After his recovery, he got back in the ring and went on to win multiple heavyweight championships.
"The rest is history. I'm very lucky," said Flair.
We, as fans of sports entertainment, are also lucky. We are lucky enough to have witnessed the "Nature Boy" make history in the ring over the past four decades. Without his contributions to the world of professional wrestling, it's safe to say, we would have been dealt a serious body slam.
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