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October 20, 1977: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash

October 20, 2012

Thirty-five years. Wow.

From the November 1977 Rolling Stone interview with survivor Billy Powell, the band’s keyboardist:

We had decided the night before that we would definitely get rid of the plane in Baton Rouge. So we started partying to celebrate the last flight on it. The right engine started sputtering, and I went up to the cockpit. The pilot said they were just transferring oil from one wing to another, everything’s okay. Later, the engine went dead. Artimus [Pyle] and I ran to the cockpit. The pilot was in shock. He said, ‘Oh my God, strap in.’ Ronnie [Van Zant] had been asleep on the floor and Artimus got him up and he was really pissed. We strapped in and a minute later we crashed. The pilot said he was trying for a field, but I didn’t see one. The trees kept getting closer, they kept getting bigger. Then there was a sound like someone hitting the outside of the plane with hundreds of baseball bats. I crashed into a table; people were hit by flying objects all over the plane. Ronnie was killed with a single head injury. The top of the plane was ripped open. Artimus crawled out the top and said there was a swamp, maybe alligators…

Ai yai yai.

Most everyone knows the details: The crash killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Cassie Gaines, as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. The rest of the band—guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, bass player Leon Wilkeson, drummer Artimus Pyle, backup singer Leslie Hawkins, and keyboardist Powell—along with other flight crew members, were seriously injured, but survived. (Several of the surving members reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd ten years later, and they still perform today.)

Many more details about the crash here.

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