45 Years Ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tragic Plane Crash

45 Years Ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tragic Plane Crash

CIRCA 1976: Lynyrd Skynyrd (L-R Leon Wilkeson, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Artimus Pyle {top}, Steve Gaines and Billy Powell) pose for a portrait circa 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

October 20th, 1977 would mark one of the most tragic days for rock ‘n’ roll in history. It was the day that Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed and several of their members were killed. The band was right in the middle of their prime popularity and fame when the devastation occurred.

Just three days after Lynyrd Skynyrd released their album Street Survivors, the band boarded a Convair CV-240 airplane after finishing a show at Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, South Carolina. They were on route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to perform at Louisiana State University, but unfortunately never made it.

While they thought it was just another regular flight, the band members were doing what they usually do. Vocalist Ronnie Van Zant was trying to sleep on the floor and some others were casually playing cards. Suddenly, something just didn’t seem right, so drummer Artimus Pyle went to check what was happening in the flight deck. That’s when Captain Walter McCreary, in a panicked state, shouted at Artimus to strap himself in. Everyone began praying at this point.

While nearing the end of the flight, the plane’s pilots realized they were almost of out fuel and had to make an emergency landing in an open field. The plane skimmed 100 yards of tree line as it went down and guitarist Gary Rossington has described what sounded like hundreds of baseball bats bashing the plane, until he was knocked unconscious. Eventually, the plane smashed into a large tree and split into multiple pieces near Gillsburg, Mississippi.

Frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing singer and Steve’s sister Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and pilots McCreary and William John Gray were all killed while the rest (who were seated towards the back of the plane) suffered major injuries.

The world has never been able to fully recover from the fateful day that took so many lives. Lynyrd Skynyrd proved so much strength after the tragedy and has continued to press on until today.

To celebrate the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd, watch this iconic concert of theirs at the Winterland Ballroom in 1975 here:


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