On This Day: Lynyrd Skynyrd Members Die in Tragic Plane Crash in 1977

by Madison Miller
Photo by: Tom Hill/WireImage

For rock music enthusiasts, October 20, 1977, will forever go down as one of the most tragic days in music history.

Unfortunately, there have been far too many of those days. From John Lennon’s assassination to Kurt Cobain’s suicide to Freddie Mercury’s death to the death of Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident, the list runs far too long.

On this day in particular in history, the popular rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd suffered an insurmountable tragedy.

Plane Crash Kills Lynyrd Skynyrd Band Members

Earlier on in 1977, members of Aerosmith had gone to see an airplane that could potentially be used for travel during their upcoming tour. It was a Convair 240 plain out of Texas. However, Aerosmith quickly looked elsewhere when there were some very serious concerns surrounding the available flight crew.

For whatever reason, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd either didn’t know or ignored these issues. This is evident because they took this same plane for their upcoming national tour during the fall. The band was thrilled, seeing as it was expected to be their most popular yet. Suddenly, tragedy got in the way of rock ‘n’ roll.

According to History.com, the band was on the plane for a flight from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Lousiana. The plane ended up crashing in a part of southeastern Mississippi.

The cause of the plane crash is the plane actually ran out of fuel 6,000 feet en route to the destination. The pilot had attempted to make an emergency landing, but failed and landed in a heavily wooded area. As a result, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, the band’s assistant road manager, the pilot, and the co-pilot all died that day, among others.

There were 20 other people on the plane that day that managed to survive the absolutely horrendous crash. The plane’s crew was held responsible for the incident by the National Transporation Safety Board.

Artimus Pyle, the former drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, recounted what it was like to survive the crash. He said he remembered Ronnie Van Zant coming to the back of the plane to see him one last time.

“I looked up at Ronnie, and we gave each other to old hippie handshake, not a regular handshake, the old’ thumb-around-thumb hippie handshake, and so Ronnie smiled, this incredible smile, he had a beautiful smile … I could see, the man knew his destiny – he already told me,” Pyle said, according to Metal Head Zone.

Initial Group and Career Milestones

Just three days before the accident, Lynyrd Skynyrd released their fifth studio album, “Street Survivors.” The album featured hits like “What’s Your Name,” “Ain’t No Good Life,” “Honky Tonk Night Time Man,” and “I Know a Little.”

This album would become their second platinum record and would reach No. 5 on the charts. Despite that, the band didn’t reunite for public performances until about a decade after this 1977 tragedy.

A lot of change happened during the tumultuous career of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The core initial group was Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Larry Junstrom. The band was initially called “My Backyard” before a name change in 1973 following increased success and notoriety.

The group would soar into the public view with songs like “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”