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.

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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.

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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.

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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.