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

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


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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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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.

Several Band Members Did Not Want To Fly On The Convair, But They Were Overruled By Band Leader Ronnie Van Zant


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Van Zant was more than just the band's main song writer and central figure. Known as "Papa Ronnie" when sober, he was a thoughtful, patriarchal influence who had held the band together through earlier, leaner times. While intoxicated, he was an intimidating, violent individual who once knocked out the two front teeth of keyboard player Billy Powell (he felt Powell overextended his "Free Bird" piano intro). He had even slashed the hands of Gary Rossington, his best friend and guitarist, with a broken beer bottle.

Getting a new plane meant cancelling tour dates, which was something Van Zant wouldn't even consider. He also appealed to the band's pride by saying that they were scheduled to appear on the campus of LSU, headlining in front of a crowd of at least 10,000 fans. This was not some venue in New York or Chicago, it was in the Deep South, in front of their most loyal fan base. Typical of a man who repeatedly said he would never make it to the age of 30, Van Zant got on the plane, telling Cassie Gaines, "If your time is up, your time is up."