October 20, 2007

October 20 | Ronnie Van Zant

January 15, 1948 - October 20, 1977: Age 29

Lynrd Skynrd were one of the most popular US bands during the 70s. Nobody who was alive during that time can fail to recognize and continue from the opening bars of "Sweet Home Alabama". Their music appealed to a demographic range that included hardcore rock enthusiasts as well as country fans.

On October 20, 1977, the band was travelling in a chartered plane from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The crew had been running one engine on a slightly richer fuel mixture in order to correct some problems they'd been having with it. Evidently they did not include that in their fuel calculations, because although they took on an appropriate amount of fuel at each stop in their travels for regular engine performance, they actually ran out of gas while still in the air. When they became aware of the potential problem they contacted air traffic controllers to get permission to land at McComb Airport in Mississippi. They were on their way there when the engines stopped and the plane went down in a heavily wooded area near Gillsburg, Mississippi.

Ronnie Van Zant, the band's founder, frontman, and main lyricist, was killed outright in the crash, as was guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, their assistant road manager and the two pilots. All of the remaining band members were injured, most of them critically. Two interesting points: one, the plane and crew were on a long-term lease to the band. Before being hired by Lynrd Skynrd they had been considered and rejected by the band Aerosmith, who didn't feel either the crew or plane were up to standard, and were somewhat put off by seeing the two co-pilots passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while the plane was being inspected. Two, another backup singer (who was not on the flight) had dreamed of a crash and begged one of the band members not to use the plane.

Although Lynrd Skynrd were extremely successful it was impossible to continue, and they went into a 10-year hiatus. In 1987 the survivors reunited with several new members, including van Zant's younger brother Johnny as frontman, and they continue to record and tour today.

Sources: Wikipedia, NTSB Accident Report

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