On this day in history, Oct. 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates killed in horrific plane crash
Three musicians from the iconic American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, plus three other people, were killed in a terrifying plane crash on the Louisiana-Mississippi border on this day in history, Oct. 20, 1977.
Lead vocalist and founder Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines were all killed in the impact.
The crash of the small Convair CV-240 passenger plane also claimed the lives of assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray. Twenty people survived.
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“The crash took away one of the great American musicians,” Gene Odom, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s security manager, and one of the survivors of the crash, told Fox News Digital. It took me a lifetime dear friend and fishing buddy.
Odom grew up with Van Zant and other founding members of the band in Jacksonville, Florida.
This Oct. 20, 1977, file photo shows the wreckage of a plane in a wooded area near McComb, Mississippi, where six people were killed, including three members of the music group Lynyrd Skynyrd.
(AP Photo, File)
The plane ran out of fuel at about 10,000 feet and crashed violently into a wooded area.
Odom helped lead a vigil to Van Zant and the other victims last night near the town of Gillsburg, Mississippi. A memorial was erected near the site of the crash in 2019.
Odom, who was thrown from the plane by the pilot, was found unconscious under one of the wings by rescuers. He sustained severe injuries.
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He suffered a “massive hole in the head from flying through the fuselage, a broken neck, broken ribs and 45 years of pain,” he said. Odom only learned that Van Zant and the other survivors had died after he left the hospital.
Photo of Steve Gaines, guitarist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Ronnie Van Zant (founder and lead singer), Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both were killed when the band’s plane crashed on Oct. 20, 1977.
(Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns)
“The only reason so many survived is that there was no fuel left on the plane. Odom said that there was no fire.
Guitarist Gaines said that he had joined the band one year before the crash, at the request of his sister Cassie. Cassie was also killed in the accident.
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“He was going to be a star, a rose that never got to bloom,” said Odom.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is still one of the most influential acts in American music history. It is undoubtedly the greatest American rock band of all-time.
The band has toured for decades, with Johnny Van Zant (the founder’s younger brother) on lead vocals. They mostly play songs written by Ronnie Van Zant half a century ago, a testament to his legacy in rock history.
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“Sweet Home Alabama,” one of the band’s signature songs, an ode to “the Southland,” boasts nearly 1 billion plays on Spotify, nearly 50 years after it was recorded in 1974.
The band’s signature tune, “Free Bird,” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut 1973 album, is a rock epic. The song’s popularity has spread beyond music and is now part of mainstream pop culture.
Singer-frontman Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd is shown performing at the Omni Coliseum on July 5, 1975, in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)
It was heard in the movie “Forrest Gump” while a video of the band performing the song in Oakland in July 1977 has generated tens of millions of plays on YouTube. This definitive Southern-rock guitarist epic was born with Ronnie Van Zant, the late frontman of Skynyrd, scribbling lyrics about “keeping love alive on tour” according to a Rolling Stone article about “Free Bird”. The publication included the tune on its 2021 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The band’s aircraft was flying to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from Greenville, South Carolina, where Van Zant closed the show with “Free Bird.”
He never performed again.
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“Old Lynyrd Skynyrd still sells a couple million albums a year,” said Odom.
“Elvis and Lynyrd Skynyrd. How’bout that for my old fishing buddy! “
Kerry J. Byrne works as a lifestyle reporter for Fox News Digital.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.