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.