43 Years Ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Plane Crashes
One of the most tragic moments in rock history happened 43 years ago today. On October 20th, 1977, a plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd ran out of fuel and crashed in a swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. At the time, the group was en route to its next gig in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Upon realizing too late that the plane had insufficient fuel, the pilots tried to set the plane down in an open field. The craft skimmed the treetops before hitting a large tree with full force. The plane broke apart on impact.
The area was very swampy and thick which hampered rescue efforts. According to Wikipedia, the call went out on CB radios for anybody that could help with the use of tractors.
Tragically, the crash claimed the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines; Skynyrd manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the plane's two pilots Walter McCreary and William Gray.
Three days before the crash the band released its fifth album, Street Survivors, which featured the future classics "What's Your Name" and "That Smell." The album cover, which featured the band seemingly engulfed in flames was deemed poor taste following the crash so it was eventually substituted with another photo in light of the horrific plane crash. However, In 2007, the 30th-anniversary reissue reinstated the original album cover.
Lynyrd's Skynyrd's head of security Gene Odom, who was on the plane and one of the 20 survivors recalled the state of Ronnie Van Zant's body after the fatal crash:
Ronnie Van Zant had an eight-inch little nick and a fractured bone in his leg. His own father, when he went to identify the body the next day said also, that when they pulled Ronnie out, Ronnie looked like he was asleep. No injuries. He said that he just had a little bump right here behind his ear -- a little cut. And Lacy (Van Zant) didn't know his leg was broke. He says, 'He just looked like he was laying there asleep.'"
The late Ronnie Van Zant talks about Freebird while fishing.
Gary Rossington broke both arms, both legs, both wrists, both ankles, and his pelvis in the plane crash.
A decade after the plane crash, the surviving members of Skynyrd regrouped under the legendary name and played a series of dates to mark the anniversary with Johnny Van Zant, the youngest brother of Ronnie Van Zant, stepping in as his permanent replacement.
July 2nd, 1977 - Just a few months before the fatal crash, Lynyrd Skynyrd performs "Free Bird" live at Oakland Stadium
Recently, Lynyrd Skynyrd has played the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, and the South Dakota State Fair in Huron for their Last of the Street Survivors farewell tour, which will conclude in Jacksonville, Florida - where it all began.