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Musicians Who Died in Plane Crashes

Music | October 5, 2018


UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Patsy CLINE; Posed portrait (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

Aviation accidents have been the cause of many fatalities of famous celebrities. Over a period of many decades, many young recording artists have died in airplane accidents as the world mourned.  When Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper perished in a deadly airplane crash in Iowa, it's famously referred to now as "The Day the Music Died."

These famous musicians will always be remembered for their talent and gifts. Let's take a look at some of these notable musicians who lost their lives in airplane crashes.

Sweet Dreams

In March of 1963, Patsy Cline, who sang “Crazy” and “Sweet Dreams,” did a benefit in Kansas City for the family of a disc jockey. There were other musicians at the benefit including George Jones and Dottie West. Patsy was sick with the flu that day but still gave three performances to standing room only crowds.

After the concert, due to inclement weather including heavy fog, she was not able to fly out from Fairfax airport. Dottie West and her husband offered her a ride with them back to Nashville, but she turned it down, saying “Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.” Instead, she made the mistake of going on a smaller plane with Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Randy Hughes, her manager. 

Randy Hughes was the pilot but was not properly trained. He and Jim Reeves were trained by the same trainer, who only trained them to navigate by VFR (visual flight rules) and not instrument flying so Randy was not prepared to fly in the driving rain and fog. It is also believed that he had spatial disorientation which complicated his ability to navigate. Jim Reeves’ plane also crashed a year later in a similar manner. Ryan had stopped to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The manager there suggested they spend the night and even offered them free rooms and food, but instead Randy just said, “I’ve already come this far. We’ll be there before you know it.” The plane took off again at 6:07 pm. Patsy Cline’s flight that night ultimately crashed. Later, when her wristwatch was recovered, it was noted that it had stopped at 6:20 pm on that fateful night. The plane was not found until the next morning 90 miles from their destination. It was determined that they all died instantly.  

Otis Redding in his last performance on the TV Show 'Upbeat' on December 9, 1967

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Released on January 8, 1968, this song was written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper and recorded by Otis Redding. He not only recorded it once but recorded it twice in 1967. The second time was just a few days before he died tragically in a plane crash. According to Cropper, Otis got the idea for the song while staying in a houseboat in San Francisco while watching the ships coming in and going out. Otis had planned on doing a “final version” of the song but never got the chance, because, on December 10 of that year, his plane crashed in Lake Monona, outside of Madison, Wisconsin, killing him and six others.

It’s kind of coincidental that his plane crashed into the water and this song is about watching ships from the shore of the water. Something else coincidental about the lyrics in the stanza of the song “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay, Cause I’ve had nothing to live for, And look like nothin’s gonna come my way.” After his death, Cropper added the sound of seagulls and waves crashing into the background, because Otis had requested that, as he had heard those sounds while he was on the houseboat. 

Jim Reeves

Make the World Go Away

With one of his most popular hits being “Make the World Go Away,” Jim Reeves died in a plane crash at the height of his career in July of 1964. He and his business partner were flying over Brentwood, Tennessee after securing a real estate deal when they ran into a violent thunderstorm. Jim was flying the plane, who had been improperly trained for flying in hazardous weather.

An investigation showed that he suffered from spatial disorientation, which is the inability to determine your location, so he was unaware of being able to determine their location in reference to the ground. With both the lack of training and being disoriented, he could not effectively land the plane. They inevitably crashed into a wooded area not far from where he had planned to land but in the opposite direction of where he should have been heading.  

Buddy Holly

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died – when Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. It was another case of an improperly trained pilot.  The group was on a Winter Dance Party Tour and, as they were traveling from one venue to another, there were problems that developed. Beginning with unheated tour buses that broke down twice in the freezing weather, things escalated when the drummer had to be put in the hospital with frostbite and Buddy decided to charter a four-seated airplane from Mason City, Iowa on to their next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. 

It was originally planned for Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to be on that plane, but Waylon gave up his seat to J.P. because he had the flu and Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens tossed a coin for the other seat with Valens “winning” the toss. He said that it was the first time he ever won anything. The pilot was not certified to fly by instruments only so when they took off in the bad weather conditions, he was not able to properly control the plane due to spatial disorientation. Just after takeoff, around 1:00 am, on that fateful day, February 3, 1959, all four of them were killed instantly when the plane crashed into a cornfield only five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Sweet Home Alabama

Recognized for their songs “Sweet Home Alabama,”  and "Freebird," the group, Lynyrd Skynyrd boarded a flight from Greenville, South Carolina, after a performance on October 20, 1977, heading for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The plan was to play the following night at LSU, but they met with tragedy after running out of fuel. As they attempted an emergency landing, they crashed into a forest five miles northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi. Members of the group who died instantly that day were Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), Dean Kilpatrick (assistant road manager), the pilot, and co-pilot. Others of the group that were not killed but seriously injured were Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins. Besides group members including the tour manager, Ron Eckerman and several road crew were also seriously injured.

Tragically, due to engine failure, technical malfunctions or pilot error,  lives have been lost and the talent of these musicians are gone but will never be forgotten.  

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Terry Claypoole

Writer

Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.