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.
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. 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.
7. 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.
Holly was offered a spot in the Winter Dance Party by the GAC agency, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on January 23, 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. He assembled a backing band consisting of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums) and billed as The Crickets.
The tour turned out to be a miserable ordeal for the performers, who were subjected to long overnight travel in a bus plagued with a faulty heating system in −25 °F (−32 °C) temperatures. The bus also broke down several times between stops. Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, 1959, Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. He, Valens, Richardson and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of February 3. Bandmate Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the plane, causing Holly to jokingly tell Jennings, “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!” Jennings shot back facetiously, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” It was a statement that would haunt Jennings for decades.
Waylon Jennings & Buddy Holly
9. Ritchie Valens
After the February 2, 1959, performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly, Richardson, and Valens flew out of the Mason City airport in a small plane that Holly had chartered. The plane, a four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza, departed for Fargo, North Dakota, into a blinding snowstorm and crashed shortly after takeoff. The crash killed all three passengers and the pilot; at 17, Valens was the youngest to die on the flight. The event inspired singer Don McLean’s popular 1971 ballad “American Pie”, and immortalized February 3 as “The Day the Music Died”.
10.The Big Bopper
With the success of “Chantilly Lace”, Richardson took time off from KTRM radio and joined Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts for a “Winter Dance Party” tour. On the eleventh night of the tour, Holly chartered an airplane to fly them to the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The musicians had been traveling by bus for over a week and it had already broken down once. They were tired, they hadn’t been paid yet and all of their clothes were dirty. With the airplane, Holly could arrive early, do everyone’s laundry and catch up on some rest.
A 21-year old pilot named Roger Peterson had agreed to take the singers to Fargo, North Dakota, where the airport serves the twin cities of Moorhead and Fargo. A snowstorm was on its way and the young pilot was fatigued from a 17-hour workday, but he agreed to fly the trip. The musicians packed up their instruments and finalized the flight arrangements. Buddy Holly’s bass player, Waylon Jennings, was scheduled to fly on the plane but gave his seat up to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from the flu. Holly’s guitarist, Tommy Allsup, agreed to flip a coin with Richie Valens for the remaining seat. Valens won. The three musicians boarded the red and white single-engine Beech Bonanza around 12:30 at night on Feb. 3. The musicians waved and then climbed onto the plane. Snow blew across the runway but the sky was clear. Peterson received clearance from the control tower, taxied down the runway and took off. He was never told of two different weather advisories that warned of an oncoming blizzard ahead.
The plane stayed in the sky for only a few minutes; no one is quite sure what went wrong. The best guess is that Peterson flew directly into the blizzard, lost visual reference and accidentally flew down instead of up. The four-passenger plane plowed into a nearby cornfield at over 170 mph, flipping over on itself and tossing the passengers into the air. Their bodies landed yards away from the wreckage and stayed there for ten hours as snowdrifts formed around them. Because of the weather, nobody could reach the crash site until later in the morning