It was the worst crash in Oklahoma’s history: Local man survived and lives to bring education to children

Staff Report


Memorial Day is usually observed to honor those who died in military service.

But it seems fitting to look back 50 years and honor a local man who survived the worst plane crash in Oklahoma’s history.

Rosalio Tobias is known locally by school children because his name is on their school. They love seeing him walk in; they greet him with huge smiles on their faces.

Tobias has served Hays CISD as a trustee, as the board president. He served on the Campus Leadership Team, on bond task forces, attendance zone committees and took on many other tasks to help school children. He was a founding member of the Hays CISD Education Foundation, which raises grant funds for teachers and students in recognition of academic achievement and innovative ideas.

But it was the one formative event in 1966 that made Tobias think about his life.

As a young soldier during the early days of the Vietnam War, Tobias was one of 15 survivors of a horrendous crash in Oklahoma.

It was a rainy April night in 1966 when an American Flyers Airline crashed into the hillside near the Gene Autry Airport in Ardmore. The plane was carrying 92 Army recruits and six crew members. Eighty-three people died in that fiery crash, which scattered debris over 400 yards.

A celebration of the remaining eight survivors was held in Oklahoma this year. Tobias and his wife, Angelita, and 12 relatives attended the event. Tobias was honored at the Kyle City Council meeting in April.

Back in 2003, when the Rosalio Tobias Elementary School was named, Tobias looked back on his time.

“When I got hurt, I spent a lot of time thinking,” he said in 2003. “I worried about how I would support my wife and family.”

Tobias was hospitalized after the crash with two broken legs, burns on his face and arms. He had also suffered from internal bleeding.

He told reporters at the time that he had been sitting on the right side of the plane in the middle over the wing.

After the crash, he could hardly move. He had been thrown about 10 feet from the wreckage, with fire all around.

Tobias retired from the Armed Services in 1970, attended Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) and earned his degree in accounting.

Tobias’ interest in education really began when his children began school.

Tobias admitted in 2003 that in his younger days, he didn’t exactly carry a torch for education. 

“Let’s say my interest in school evolved through the years … I’m so involved in the schools now that it’s hard to believe I’m the same person,” he said.

But his children made him yearn for an educated life.

“I wanted to give the support at home, to teach them they are worthy, that education is important, and that with it they can accomplish anything,” he said in 2003. “I also wanted to instill in them the importance of being involved in their communities.”

Today, a member of the Tobias family, Teresa Tobias, follows in Rosalio’s footsteps.

Other members of the same family have worked hard for Hays CISD, serving in all aspects of the education system.

From the fiery crash in Ardmore more than 50 years ago, a legacy of education rises in the Hays CISD community – education, community involvement, love of children, service.

Rosalio Tobias is certainly a fitting Memorial Day reminder – that through hard work and sustained devotion, everyone and anyone can make something of themselves. 

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