Today in music history: Plane with Lynyrd Skynyrd onboard crashes in Mississippi on Oct. 20, 1977
GILLSBURG, Miss (WVUE) - About 100 miles north of New Orleans, the rock-n-roll landscape was forever changed on Oct. 20, 1977.
A plane carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in Gillsburg, Mississippi killing 6 out of 26 passengers. Among the dead were the band’s frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines, who died on impact.
The band had departed from Greenville, South Carolina for Baton Rouge to play a date at LSU as part of the Street Survivors tour. The flight was supposed to be the last for the band’s plane as the plan was to upgrade from an outdated Convair CV-240 to a Learjet in Baton Rouge.
The plane ran out of gas en route to Louisiana and the pilots made an attempt to land at the McComb Airport to refuel. Instead, the plane crash-landed onto a property on Easley Road off of MS-568 15 miles West.
The property owner, Dwain Easley, told the Daily Star that the night is forever burned into his mind and that he even helped pull bodies from the wreckage that night.
“When we heard it, we thought it sounded like a car crash,” he said. “We started heading that way, and we could hear people crying for help.”
According to the Hammond Daily Star, first responders as far away as Tangipahoa Parish joined the rescue efforts to give aid to those responding in Pike County and Amite County. Rescuers went into the heavily wooded area and crossed a waist-deep creek before reaching the wreckage.
“My first instinct was to go up there and try to help out on the scene. But I knew it was going to be bad, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the band like that,” said Ricky Wascom, a Greensburg, Louisiana resident, recalled. “I was sad. I just loved them. I thought they were one of the world-class rock bands.”
The tragedy marked a stopping point for the Jacksonville, Florida band that got their start recording in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and innovating a sound known that would become known as southern rock. They reunited with the surviving members in 1987 with Van Zant’s brother Johnny taking over on lead vocals.
Today, there is a memorial at the plane crash site for fans to stop by and pay their respects.
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