Weird History Falling Free Bird: The Truth About The Infamous Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash Is Stranger Than Fiction  

Phil Gibbons
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Tragedy struck Lynryd Skynyrd, one of the best Southern rock bands, just three days after the group released its fifth album and was seemingly on the brink of unprecedented popular acclaim. On October 20, 1977, a plane crash killed three members of the group, including its guiding light, Ronnie Van Zant. What caused Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane to crash? Even in the 21st century, despite an official investigation and opinion that characterized the crash as the result of pilot error, the circumstances and decisions that led to the aircraft's unusual demise remain unknown. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd is considered to have one of the most gruesome band histories because they lost several people in the aerial accident. Who died in the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash? Of the 24 passengers who boarded the ill-fated flight from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, three members of the band were killed. The death of Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and his sister Cassie Gains, along with the aftermath of the tragedy, essentially destroyed one of the most unique voices of American rock and roll. Listed here are the facts behind the infamous plane crash that ended Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Survivors Sued To Keep A Film About The Crash From Being Released

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Photo: MCA Records/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 2017, surviving Lynyrd Synyrd members and heirs of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines sued Cleopatra Films, a company who made a feature about the 1977 crash. Titled Street Survivor: The True Story of the Lynyrd Synyrd Plane Crash, the film was initially blocked by lower court judge Robert Sweet who claimed the film violated a "blood oath" that surviving members made not to exploit the band's name after the tragedy. The company worked with Artimus Pyle, a former drummer in the band, to create the film.

In October 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the lower court judge's injunction, saying:

The crash is part of the "history" of the band, but it is also an "experience" of Pyle with the band, likely his most important experience. Provisions of a consent decree that both prohibit a movie about such a history and also permit a movie about such an experience are sufficiently inconsistent, or at least insufficiently specific, to support an injunction.

In 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd Was On Tour For Their Fifth Album And It Was Their Biggest To Date

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Photo:  The Reaper Files/YouTube

1977 marked the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd's fifth album, Street Survivors. The album had just hit gold three days prior to the terrible plane crash. The band's ambitious tour for their latest album had just started and they decided to lease a twin prop plane to reach each destination. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd And Aerosmith Were Both Interested In The Same Plane, But Aerosmith Cited Safety Concerns And Backed Out

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Prior to Lynyrd Skynyrd leasing their twin prop, a Convair CV-240, Aerosmith was also interested in the same plane. The band's autobiography tells the story of their management examining the aircraft and being underwhelmed. When they also observed the pilot and co-pilot exchanging a bottle of Jack Daniel's during the inspection, they were convinced that both the Convair and its crew were not up to their standards.

This was in the spring of 1977, only months before Skynyrd's tragic flight.  

48 Hours Prior To The Crash, The Band Was Flying On The Plane When They Saw Sparks Shoot Out Of The Engine

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Photo:  James Aldridge/YouTube

On October 18, 1977, Lynryd Skynyrd performed in Lakeland, Florida, and then flew to Greenville, South Carolina, for their show on October 19, 1977. En route, several band members were alarmed when they saw 10-foot streams of sparks and flames shooting out of the right engine of the prop plane.

Although the plane landed safely, following the concert, several members of the band and crew told lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant that they would not continue the tour unless the plane was replaced. Backup vocalist Cassie Gaines even made a reservation on a commercial flight to the next tour stop, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.