October 20, 1977. Remembering Lynyrd Skynyrd's crash

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Gary, Oct 19, 2003.

  1. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    Location:
    GTA, Canada
    Sorry - this is long!

    And a tad graphic, too.

    Taken from: Lynyrd Skynyrd, an Oral History, by Lee Ballinger.

    This plane was a Corvair 240 and it was built in 1947 for Eastern Airlines and it had originally carried about 10 people. And we had it fixed up like a tour bus, and we had it pretty much maxed out at 26 people aboard. And we had a couple of extra people, one gentleman from Rolling Stone that was going to do a cover story. We were overloaded. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1977.

    Just before the last trip, the engine almost caught fire. The fuel mixture was wrong … there was an explosion… a flame six feet long from the right engine. Ken Peden, Stage crew, 1977.

    They met in my room… .I remember it very well. Several people booked commercial flights…. But when Ronnie decided to get on that plane, the show must go on. Ronnie’s going to get on, the rest of us get on. Clayton Johnson, Production / Stage Manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

    Cassie (Gaines) had reservations to go on a commercial flight to go from Greenville to Baton Rouge because she did not trust the ‘plane. ….the place we were buying the airplane from in Dallas was sending a mechanic to Baton Rouge to work on the ‘plane and make it right. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1998.

    I was in Nashville and planning on going to Little Rock the next day… I got the call from George Osaki on the West Coast, telling me about the ‘plane crash and for me not to do anything because I might have to go down to McComb Mississippi… I may have to identify bodies… Leon Tsilis, Florida MCA promotion rep. 1998


    We were only 10 minutes from Baton Rouge and everyone was dancing because it had been a long flight. I heard the pilot say “Oh my God” and the right engine went out. Billy Powell, keyboards, 1977.

    As soon as the engine started to sputter, I ran to the cockpit because my Father was killed in a ‘plane accident…. . The co-pilot turned to me and said “tell everyone to strap in, quick”. Just before that we’d been dancing in the aisles. We had no drugs on board, no pot and very little beer. We had just been partying out of boredom. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1977.

    They were young and they panicked, so they jettisoned the fuel by accident. I went up to the cockpit after the right engine started sputtering … they told me not to worry, they were just transferring oil from one wing to the next… before we knew it, the right engine went dead. Artimus and I raced to the cockpit and saw the pilot was clearly in shock. His eyes were bugged out in fear but he managed to tell us all to get back to our seats and make sure every one was strapped in. Billy Powell, Keyboards, 1997.

    Before the wreck, there was no hysteria. The ‘plane was completely quiet. No one was freaking out. … I felt at that moment that everyone was speaking to their concept, whatever it was, of God. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1977.

    The pilot said he was trying for a field, but I did not see one. The trees kept getting bigger and bigger… there was a sound like someone hitting the outside of the ‘plane with hundreds of baseball bats. Billy Powell, Keyboards, 1997.

    I crashed into a table; people were hit with flying objects all over the ‘plane. The top of the ‘plane was ripped open. Artimus crawled out of the top, said there was a swamp, maybe alligators. I kicked my way out and felt for my hands. They were still there. I felt for my nose and it wasn’t – it was on the side of my face. There was just silence. Artimus and Ken Peden ran to get help, Artimus with his ribs sticking out. Billy Powell, Keyboards, 1977.

    The fuselage turned sideways and everyone was hurled forward. That’s how Ronie died…. Instantly of a massive head injury. There was not a scratch on him except a small bruise at his temple the size of a quarter. … I can’t even begin to describe how terrifying it was… I saw the co-pilot, John Gray, he was hanging in a tree, decapitated. Dean Kilpatrick was face down with a piece of fuselage in his back. Leon was screaming. The sun was going down, we were in two feet of swamp muck and the helicopters could not land. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1998.

    I just about broke every bone in my body. Our hearts were broke, too. Gary Rossington, guitar, 1977.

    They were all in the front of the ‘plane and they were all shouting “Get me out, get me”. We were actually standing on top of some people to get others out. Constable Gerald Wall, 1977.

    I flew to New Orleans and I was waiting for the guys to come in. I was going our to dinner and the bell boy comes running after me and says “George, your plane crashed … CBS has got a private plane, they’ve got one more seat, you can go with them. They’re going to McComb, Mississippi”.
    The hospital was so well organized… nobody panicked… it was so small they had Gary, Allen and some others on the hallway… I said “Where’s Steve?”, “ Where’s Ronnie?” They said you’ve got to come with us to the morgue. It was a high school gym or something. I’ve never seen a dead person before. They pulled the sheets back. The pilot and copilot were badly mangled. I saw Cassie, she was mangled. Steve was mangled. Ronnie, it was like he was sleeping. I wanted to go and shake him and say “Ronnie, wake up!”.
    I was taken aback by the hospital, how organized they were. This little town, McComb Mississippi. Just wonderful people. They said they went through drills for emergencies and it worked.
    The album (Street Survivors) had just been released. I had to rush back and kill the album cover because it was not appropriate, although when the plane crashed, there were no flames. I had to take the flames out. That picture of Steve with his eyes closed, and the flames. It was too macabre.
    That’s the second cover like that I had. There was also the Beatles with the babies and stuff…. Yesterday and… today. I did that one and had to rush back and cover that. George Osaki, photographer, 1998.

    When I woke up after a few days, there was just a priest and my mama standing there. I went “What happened”? I was in shock and they said don’t tell him anything, it’ll freak him out. And I went “Mama” and she told me. And then I said that I needed to be alone. It was always weird for Allen and me because we were up front. And it was Steve and me and Ronnie and I was in the middle of them. And on the other side it was Allen in the middle of Dean and Cassie. They all died and we didn’t and we always wondered why, you know. Gary Rossington, guitar, 1977.

    After our plane crash, things changed in the music business. Steve miller called me and said they were thinking of leasing a ‘plane at one point but after our plane crash, they decided no. Artimus Pyle, drummer, 1977.

    I was home on L.A. and it came over the TV and I stayed up all night because they were not giving out the names of the people who died. Finally, in the morning, they said who lived and who died. Then we got on a ‘plane for Jacksonville. I was long out of the equation but the were my friends. It hurt me real bad. Al Kooper, Record Producer, 1998.

    Dean was an important guy. He was a great guy, a skinny lively guy. He was like a spark plug and he would kind of dance around in between these other characters and kind of set them off in a great way. Bands tend to have that one guy that’s kind of a link to the beginning. Trustworthy, entertaining, quick with the joke, keep things up, keep things moving. Pearl Jam has a guy like that named Eric Johnson. These are the guys who are the unsung heroes of the band. It’s sad to see a guy like that disappear from the history books. Cameron Crowe, writer, 1998.

    The last five shows we did, we drank fruit juice and water and doing real good and having it togeather. Gary Rossington, Guitarist, 1987.

    I expect we’ll all be in Steve’s shadow one day. This kid is a writing and playing fool. Just wait and see. He’s already scared everybody else into playing their best in years. Ronnie Van Zant, singer, 1976.

    Steve was a sweet, quiet kind of guy, kind of a Mick Taylor kind of guy. What he played was as important as how he fit in. I remember being on a ‘plane with him once. And he just sat quietly there listenng t some music on his headphones. I guess he was working on his own music. Steve was a bnad saver. And he came in a package with his sister (Cassie) who everyone loved. She was the kind of person who walks up to you, talks to you and makes you feel better just standing with her. Cameron Crowe, writer, 1998.

    If I just sat and tried to think of what I always wanted to do, man, it would be to make a record and get it out. This is the start of what I want to do . I hope I can be good enough to keep on going, whether this band goes or not. This is so great…. I’ve got a lot to contribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd but I’m not in any special hurry. Learning to live with the band has been quite an experience. Steve Gaines, guitar, 1977.

    We got the thing (’plane) so cheap because we had a lease on it. It’s just like if you lease a car, you are responsible for the oil and gas. The leasing company is not responsible. But if you charter a ‘plane, then that’s not your responsibility. If you look at any mega group that’s using ‘planes now, they use chartered ‘planes and deals that are really above board. The insurance policy isn’t issued after the crash. Clayton Johnson, Production / Stage Manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd 1992

    There were two things in the offing had the ‘plane crash not happened. Ronnie has spoken to me, saying “I want to learn more about producing because I want to make an album with a group”. The other thing was, he had a flaming desire but he was very tight lipped about it. He was a lover of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, and their songs and writing facility. He said to me when we were working on Street Survivors:” I want to make the next record on the side that nobody will know about, but it’s going to be with Merle and Waylon”. He wanted to make a country-rock album with them. It was in the talking stages with them. Tom Dowd, record producer, 1992.

  2. ferric

    ferric Iron Dino

    Location:
    NC
    Thanks for posting this Gary. I remember the sad day. :(
  3. Michael

    Michael I LOVE WIDE S-T-E-R-E-O!

    One of my favorite Sourthern Rock bands:) Thanks Gary...What a shame...I remember hearing about it at a practice sesssion...
  4. cdice

    cdice New Member

    Location:
    U.S.
    1977 was a bad year....

    Boy, does this thread bring back memories....I used to be on the concert committee at Ohio State back in 1977. We had just booked Elvis Presley for August 1977, and he up-and-died right before he was supposed to play our venue on campus. Then, we booked Lynyrd Skynyrd for October, and their plane crashes! It was not a good year for booking shows....or simply a case of bad luck.
  5. ACK!

    ACK! Active Member

    Location:
    New Hampshire
    That's when the band truly ended.

    Who would've known 30 years ago that "Freebird" would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    Rest well Ronnie, Cassie and Steve.
  6. Michael

    Michael I LOVE WIDE S-T-E-R-E-O!

    Tonight they had a tribute night on the local "Classic Rock" station...They played some Live Skynard. On came a Live version of FREEBIRD, out came my guitar! :laugh: Just have to play along when I hear that tune and have my guitar close by:)
  7. Casemeister

    Casemeister Active Member

    Man, I REALLY wish Ronnie could have done his album with Waylon. They even had studio time booked for it. (Some say Haggard was definitely in, others don't... I'm not sure about that, but I guess Tom Dowd would have known!)
  8. houston

    houston Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dallas, Texas, USA
    I had just arrived at school, at 6:15a.m. the morning of the 21st, a guy from my first period English Class told the class he'd heard it on the radio on the way to school...we were all shocked...my brother had got the latest Skynard album with the flames on the front jacket, reissued with a different cover soon after...your memories?
  9. Veech

    Veech Space In Sounds

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    My memories are that the band's name is spelled differently than in your thread title "Lynard Skynard Plane Crash..30 Years Ago Today"
  10. 905

    905 Who Are You

    Location:
    Southern IL
    I'm glad that I was an infant in 1977... first Elvis, then this. It would of been hard to take if I was in my teens or older.
  11. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    Location:
    GTA, Canada
    Foxed.

    Uhhh, fixed. :D

    Their Convair 240 was built in 1947 for Eastern Airlines. Just before the last trip the engine almost caught fire - the fuel mixture was wrong and a flame six feet long shot out.

    They ran out of gas near McComb Mississippi and crashed into a forest.

    Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines (Steve's sister), Dean Kilpatrick, Walter McCreary (pilot) and William Gray (Co-pilot) all died.

    The plane was almost leased by Aerosmith but Mr. Buker, head of flight operations, said that there was no way he would lease the 'plane.

    ____________________________________________

    Dean (Kilpatrick) was an important guy. He was a great guy, a skinny, lively guy. He was like a spark plug and he would kind of dance around in between these other characters and really kind of set them off in a great way. It was a nice kind of chemical that was in the mix.
    Bands tend to have that one guy that's kind of a link to the beginning- trustworthy, entertaining, quick with the joke,keep things up, keep things moving. It's sad when you see a guy like that disappear from the history books.
    Cameron Crowe, 1998
    _____________________________________________

    We hit a bunch of trees and I saw the wings being ripped off.
    I crashed into a table; people were hit with flying objects all over the plane. the top of the plane was ripped open. Artimus crawled out the top and said there was a swamp, maybe alligators. I kicked my way out and felt for my hands- they were still there. I felt for my nose and it wasn't - it was on the side of my face. There was just silence. Artimus and Ken Peden and I ran to get help,Artimus with his ribs sticking out.
    Billy Powell, 1998
    ______________________________________________

    The album had just been released when the plane crashed (Street Survivors). I had to rush back home and kill the album cover because it wasn't appropriate, although when the plane crashed there were no flames. I had to take the flames out. That picture with Steve with the flames and his eyes closed. It was too macabre.
    That's the second cover like that I had. there was also the Beatles cover with the babies and stuff... I did that and had to rush back and cover that.
    George Osaki, 1998
    ______________________________________________

    It was always weird for Allen and me because we were up front, and it was Steve and me and Ronnie and I was in the middle of them. And on the other side was Allen in the middle of Cassie and Dean. So they all died and we didn't, and we always wondered why, you know.
    Gary Rossington, 1992
    _______________________________________________

    Thirty years....... it does not seem that long ago. :(
  12. Tony Caldwell

    Tony Caldwell Active Member

    Location:
    Arkansas
    I remember hearing about it on a little radio that I used to hold under my pillow at night when I was supposed to be asleep. I was nine years old.

    I only really discovered their music in my teenage years. One of my favorite concerts that I attended was the "Tribute Tour" show in Little Rock in 1987. I went with my best friend (who's brother had a ticket to the Little Rock show in 1977 that was scheduled for October 22). It was a nice moment when the band played "Freebird" as an instrumental with the spotlight on the microphone stand as a tribute to Ronnie.

    I wish they had just played that tour and stopped, or at least changed the name. But I did see them live two more times on later tours, so I am part of the reason they keep going on tour...
  13. nelamvr6

    nelamvr6 High End Headphoniac

    Location:
    New London, CT USA
    :( Very sad memories.

    To me the band has never recovered. I would really rather that the current band not tour using the original name.
  14. monewe

    monewe Well-Known Member

    Location:
    SCOTLAND

    Agreed they were never the same.
  15. John Cantrell

    John Cantrell New Member

    Location:
    Outta here
    One of the great, senseless tragedies in Rock. Cut down in their prime; they were just really hitting their stride with the addition of Steve Gaines.

    My personal grief/anger will always be enhanced by the feeling of what might have been...that "next album" would have been killer, I'm convinced of it.

    Anyhow, it's going to be a Skynyrd weekend for me, in loving memory of one of the greatest American bands, bar none.
  16. pool_of_tears

    pool_of_tears Maven Of Rare Earth

    Location:
    Eastern Iowa
    I was just a little over a year old when it happened. My dad, who was a big fan back then and never missed a chance to see them said that it really was upsetting. He still considers their 1976 show @ Soldier Field in Chicago as one of the best concerts he ever saw.

    But it is one of the saddest tragedies in music. Having read the book that Gene Odum (close friend and associate of the band) wrote, the section about the plane crash is haunting. It's a miracle anyone survived that crash. And Gene was on the plane as well. All I can say is "cruel fate". The band had just released one of their very best albums and for that to happen, totally undeserving! :( I think the plane crash was probably the night that Southern Rock died as well.
  17. James Glennon

    James Glennon Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Dublin, Ireland
    I just found out the other day how to make my DVD player all region.

    I had bought a Lynyrd Skynyrd DVD (which was region 1 - US) a while back and realised I could try out the DVD player on a US DVD, I picked out the Lynyrd Skynyrd DVD and I have to say it really brought back great memories of buying each and every Skynyrd LP.

    JG
  18. spice9

    spice9 Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York, NY
    I was working nights at my first job after college at a newspaper in Bloomington, Ill. The managing editor (big boss) rushed over to me and asked if I knew for sure how to spell Lynyrd Skynyrd. Said the wire reports had it several ways and he didn't want it wrong in the paper. We were on deadline. I told him the right spelling and got brownie points. Strange memory.
  19. musicalbeds

    musicalbeds Strange but not a stranger

    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Gary and Allen were left with survivor's guilt no doubt...Gary's quote says it all.
  20. TOCJ-4091

    TOCJ-4091 New Member

    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    I had a couple of tickets for their Boston date scheduled IIRC a few weeks down the road. Instead, we got refunds.
  21. Greg Layton

    Greg Layton Playin' in the Band

    Location:
    Overland Park, KS
  22. musicalbeds

    musicalbeds Strange but not a stranger

    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Second Helping is my favourite Skynyrd...it sounds great to me, end to end. The MFSL especially...
  23. Ocean56

    Ocean56 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Waterford, MI USA
  24. If I leave here tomorrow
    Would you still remember me?

    RIP
  25. stever

    stever Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Lincoln, Nebr.
    I'll never forget it. My friend and I had tickets for Dec. 13 in Lincoln, Nebr. -- the 1977-78 tour was printed on an insert in, "Street Survivors." I came home from school on Oct. 20, 1977, and boom -- there was the plane crash news on my hometown's front page.

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