The Quick 10: 10 Musical Artists Who Died in Plane Crashes
Music fans know today as "The Day the Music Died" because a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed in Iowa, killing them all. The site of the crash is only about an hour and a half away from Des Moines, so it's a pretty big deal around here, especially since this year is the 50th anniversary. But there seems to be an inordinate number of recording artists who have died in plane crashes. I mean, probably not "“ since so many of them fly on small planes to get from gig to gig, it stands to reason that the number of deaths by plane crash would be higher in the music industry than any other profession. But still... it seems like a lot, and they're all certainly very tragic. Today's Q10 pays homage to 10 other music greats who met their ends via aviation accident.
1. Patsy Cline, 1963. Patsy may have had a premonition that she was going to die "“ according to June Carter Cash and Loretta Lynn, Patsy told them that something didn't feel right and she didn't think she was going to be around much longer. That was in 1962, and in 1963, the plane taking her from Kansas City to Nashville crashed just about 90 miles away from its destination.
2. Ricky Nelson, 1985. There are lots of things you might know Ricky from - The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, his teen idol days or as the dad of Gunnar and Matthew. He was also married to Mark Harmon's older sister, Kristin. By the late "˜70s, though, he was in a lot of debt and his wife left him and took the kids. He started touring almost constantly to try to dig his way out of his financial hole. It was a 1985 nostalgia rock tour of the South that would be his undoing "“ after playing a show in Guntersville, Alabama, he and his band were headed to Dallas to play a New Year's Eve show. It crashed northeast of Dallas, killing all seven passengers (the pilots survived). Investigation later showed that a fire had broken out in the cabin and the pilots attempted an emergency landing.
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, 1977. The band was flying from Greenville, S.C., to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; the plane went down about five miles outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. There is a lot of speculation as to why the plane actually crashed, but the official accident report says that it was a combination of fuel exhaustion, engine malfunction and inadequate flight planning.
4. Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays, 1967. Redding and his band were headed from Cleveland to Madison, Wisconsin, on December 9. They were almost there when the plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison. The lone survivor of the crash, Bar-Kay member Ben Cauley, says there were at least some survivors even after the crash "“ he heard some of his fellow passengers calling for help, but help didn't arrive fast enough and the frigid waters claimed them.
5. Randy Rhodes, 1982. Chalk this one up to drugs and stupidity. Rhodes toured with Ozzy Osbourne after he went solo; you can hear his guitar work on Crazy Train and Mr. Crowley (among others). Anyway, he, Ozzy and other members of the band were on their way to Orlando, but they stopped in Leesburg, where they picked up one of the tour bus driver's planes. The driver took some band members for rides, and was flying Rhodes and seamstress Rachel Youngblood around when the accident occurred. Aycock "buzzed" the top of the tour bus carrying the rest of the band members a couple of times, but the third time he did it, a wing of the plane clipped the bus and sent the plane spiraling. All three of the people on the plane were killed instantly, and were burned so badly that only dental records could identify them. It was later revealed that the pilot/tour bus driver had cocaine in his system at the time.
6. Will Rogers, 1935. Will was a big fan of aviation and was embarking upon a flight around the world with his friend, aviator Wiley Post. On August 15, they made a brief stop at Walakpa Bay, just south of Barrow, Alaska. When they tried to take off again, the plane stalled and crashed into the river, killing them both.
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990. Stevie was touring with Double Trouble and Joe Cocker in the "In Step" tour; the tour manager had rented a helicopter for members of the tour to get from Elk Horn, Wisconsin to Chicago. Despite a little bit of fog, three of the four helicopters departed without a hitch, but the pilot of Stevie Ray's helicopter failed to reach the altitude necessary to clear the hill at the takeoff site and crashed into it. Everyone died. Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray's brother, Jimmie, were called to identify his body.
8. Aaliyah, 2001. Aaliyah had just finished shooting a music video in the Bahamas and was on the way back to Miami when her plane crashed. It was grossly overloaded because her crew insisted on bringing all of their heavy equipment back on the plane instead of sending it on a later flight. In addition, the pilot, Luis Morales, had apparently faked documents for his FAA license, citing hundreds of hours that he never actually flew. His autopsy also showed cocaine and alcohol in his blood, and it was his first day flying with the company that Aaliyah's team had hired to get them back to Florida. Her family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit and settled out of court.
9. John Denver, 1997. Although he was an experienced pilot with more than 2,700 hours, Denver was flying an unfamiliar plane "“ the experimental Long-EZ aircraft "“ and crashed it off the coast of California. The official investigation thought that he probably accidentally pushed the right rudder pedal when he was trying to turn to reach the fuel handle, causing the plane to suddenly plunge downward.
10. Jim Croce, 1973. After finishing up a concert in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Croce was flying to Sherman, Texas for his next gig. It was a clear evening and visibility was excellent, but for some reason the pilot didn't get the plane high enough in the air to clear a pecan tree at the end of the runway. Reports speculate that the pilot, who had a history of heart problems, may have had a heart attack. Everyone on board died, including Croce's good friend and musical partner Maury Muehleisen.