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Archive for Friday, November 6, 1998

KU LOSES SUPPORTER IN TRAGEDY

November 6, 1998

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Authorities believe Les Nesmith, an avid supporter of Kansas University athletics, was killed in a small plane crash Wednesday night.

From Staff and Wire Reports

Augusta -- Two people -- one with longtime ties to Kansas University athletics -- were killed when a small plane crashed in a flood-ravaged region of south-central Kansas on Wednesday night.

Although authorities still were trying to positively identify those killed in the crash, one of the victims was believed to be Les Nesmith, son of the late Dean Nesmith, Kansas University's head athletics trainer for 45 years.

John Hadl, associate KU athletics director for development, grew up with Les Nesmith and attended school with him in Lawrence. He said the Nesmith family had been notified by authorities about the crash.

"He was really a top-notch guy and a great guy," Hadl, a former KU and professional football player, said.

Andover Fire Chief Bill Walker said a Wichita-based hospital helicopter discovered the crash scene about 10 a.m. Thursday. The twin-engine plane had crashed in Cowley County, just south of the Butler County line.

"The aircraft left the Augusta municipal airport approximately 9 p.m. last evening with two on board," Walker said.

Hadl said Nesmith owned a two-engine plane and that it may have been his aircraft that crashed.

Cowley County Sheriff Bob O'Dell said it could take several days for Federal Aviation Administration officials to investigate the crash and remove the bodies from the twisted wreckage.

"When it hit, it sunk into the pasture land," O'Dell said. "You can see some evidence of fire, but right now, it's just a mess of metal sunk in the ground. It's difficult to even identify it as an aircraft."

The private plane was on a routine maintenance check when it went down, Walker said.

"They were going to be gone approximately an hour or an hour and a half, but they did not return," Walker said. "911 received a call this morning regarding a plane that hadn't returned."

The emergency helicopter Lifewatch was asked to do an aerial search and discovered the wreckage between the towns of Douglas and Rock, he said.

The flight was not connected to flood rescue activities, Walker said.

Les Nesmith, who lived in Wichita, was an optometrist who grew up in Lawrence and was well-known here, Hadl said.

He had adopted several children.

"He was just that kind of guy -- he really cared for people and he was a good father to all of them," Hadl said.

Nesmith also was an avid supporter of KU athletics, often flying his plane from Wichita to Lawrence for football and basketball games, Hadl said.

Nesmith graduated from Lawrence High School in 1958 and from KU in 1962, before moving on to medical school, Hadl said.

Nesmith's father, Dean, was Kansas University's head athletics trainer from 1938 until he retired in 1983. Dean Nesmith, who was known affectionately as "Deaner," died Sept. 25, 1985.

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