June 6, 1979: Cargo Plane Carrying 12 Tons of Marijuana Crashes at Yeager Airport

This Week in West Virginia History.

Just after midnight on June 6, 1979, an old Douglas DC-6 cargo plane carrying 12 tons of marijuana attempted to land at Charleston’s Kanawha Airport—now Yeager Airport.

Two Ryder rental trucks were waiting at the airport to haul away the illegal cargo, but the scheme went awry when the plane plummeted off the edge of the runway. Hundreds of bales of marijuana spewed from the plane before it caught fire.

From there, the story gets even more bizarre. While police seized most of the contraband, local residents began scavenging the area for additional marijuana, and pot plants began sprouting on the hillside.

Among those convicted in what would be remembered as the Charleston “pot plane crash” was filmmaker Leon Gast, who’d been waiting in one of the Ryder trucks.

Gast—who’d made films about The Grateful Dead and B. B. King—was trying to finance a new documentary about the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire. Seventeen years later—after serving a prison sentence—Gast finally released his film, When We Were Kings, earning him the 1997 Academy Award for best documentary.