There are any number of highlights in LSU football history, but the program's darkest day was Jan. 10, 1980.
That was the day newly hired LSU football coach Bo Rein’s plane went down in the Atlantic Ocean, killing Rein and pilot Lewis Benscotter. It was never recovered.
Rein had been on a recruiting trip to Shreveport to visit multiple high school prospects. The list included Charlie Cryer, an offensive tackle at Woodlawn-Shreveport.
Minutes into the return flight to Baton Rouge, Benscotter got permission from ground control to climb east, up and around some thunderstorms.
After that, there was only but radio silence as the plane climbed to 41,000 feet and flew across northern Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina, near Raleigh where Rein’s family was still living, before running out of fuel and crashing into the Atlantic off the Virginia coast.
The plane was 1,400 miles off course.
Cryer, who went on to play at LSU after leading Vermilion Catholic to a state championship in 2003, was recently named the new head football coach at Pope John Paul II.
“I was probably one of the last few people to see (Rein) alive,” Cryer said.
On the day of Rein’s visit, Cryer already was part of the 1980 recruiting class.
“I had actually signed the previous fall,” he said. “We had just gotten beat in the state semifinals by St. Augustine 16-0 on Dec. 7 in 1979, and Coach Rein was there. People have to remember that LSU at that time hadn’t done a good job of recruiting north Louisiana. He wanted me to come down that weekend to check out the campus, basically on a visit.”
Cryer and his family flew to Baton Rouge the next morning. The visit went very well for Cryer and his family, who stayed in Baton Rouge until Monday.
“I came home and signed with LSU that Tuesday,” he said.
Fast forward to that fateful Jan. 10. Cryer and his mother were up late watching the news, and there was a knock at the door.
“It was Coach Rein and (LSU assistant coach Greg Williams),” he said. “They were waiting for their plane to be fueled up to head back to Baton Rouge. They were actually in the area recruiting a prospect at Fair Park High School by the name of Alvin Burns (who ended up signing with Houston), and they just wanted to stop by and check in on me and my family. They wanted to hang around and drink some coffee. The trip was so unexpected I don’t even think my dad woke up.
“I can remember plain as day my mom, Annie, telling them that they should stay the night because of how bad the weather was. We were in the middle of one of those east Texas storms. Coach Rein said he really had to get back to Baton Rouge, but Coach Williams decided to stay and visit Burns one more time. The rest is history.”
Cryer was awakened by a phone call at 5:30 the next morning.
“It was an NCAA official,” he said. “ They told me that Coach Rein was presumed missing and if I wanted to not attend LSU I had that option.
"Then when I got to school that morning, I get called out of class to be questioned by the National Transportation Safety Board because my mom and I were one of the last people to see Coach Rein. For a 17-year-old boy, which I was at the time, it was definitely a different kind of 24 hours.”
Days after Rein’s plane crash, Cryer spoke to his hometown newspaper in Shreveport.
“(Rein) was a good man,” he said. “Not many realize this, but I was all set to sign with Tulane until I met him. He was the reason I was coming to LSU.”
Cryer would go on to play at LSU for Jerry Stovall, who was hired as Rein’s replacement, from 1980-1983.
“I know I made the right choice,” he said of choosing to stay with the Tigers.
Scott Rabalais of The Advocate contributed to this report.