|Investigation into airplane crash continues
A story originally published October 24, 1977, just days after the crash
Several of the survivors of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash at Gillsburg were reported in
improved condition today while investigators continued to inspect the wreckage of the
twin-engine aircraft that carried six persons to their deaths and injured 20 others
Thursday night. Rudolph Kasputin, director of the National Transportation Safety Board
team combing the crash site, along with investigators from the Federal Aviation
Administration, said the planes engines, fuel gauge and other equipment were removed
Sunday for inspection. Autopsies were performed Friday on the bodies of the pilots.
Investigators also asked to see complete records on the 30-plus-year-old Convair 240
and on both pilots, as efforts to determine what caused the crash continues. Kasputin
has said that the plane ran out of gas as a "distinct possibility." Rumors that drugs and
money were found aboard the plane are false, said Amite County Sheriff Norman
Travis.He said money and bottles of drugs were found "scattered in different places" at
the crash site. He declined to say how much money had been recovered. He added that
the drugs were "in bottles and weren't labeled, some was prescription medicine and
some was just old drugstore medicine."..... Investigators spent the weekend
interviewing the survivors and witnesses who were on the ground at the time of the
crash. The plane carrying the Lynyrd Skynyrd rock group and their road crew, crashed
shortly before 7pm in a wooded area of Amite County. The pilot only moments before
had radioed the flight control center in Houston that he was having fuel problems and
had been told the nearest airport was at McComb. The plane crashed eight miles south
of the airports runway, minutes away from its destination in Baton Rouge. The group
was to perform at Louisiana State University Friday night. Of the survivors, five were
listed in improved condition today, six were stable, and two were expected to be
discharged soon, possibly tomorrow. Two of the survivors who had been hospitalized,
Mark Frank and Kenneth Peden, discharged during the weekend from Southwest
Mississippi Regional Medical Center. Still in treatment at Southwest hospital, all listed as
improved, were Leon Wilkeson, the groups bass guitarist, who was still in intensive care
but "doing better"; Joe Osborne, Don Kretzschman, Kevin Elson, Ron Eckerman, Steve
Lawler, Clayton Johnson, Craig Reed and James Bryce. At Baptist Hospital in Jackson,
guitarist Gary Rossington was said to be in stable but in intensive care, while Mark
Howard was moved from the intensive care unit to a private room and is listed in stable
condition. Bill Sykes and Bill Powell are expected to be discharged soon, a hospital
spokesman said. Four persons at University Medical Center in Jackson are all listed as
stable. They are vocalist Leslie Hawkins, guitarist Larkin Allen Collins, Gene Odom and
Paul Welch. Three members of the rock group, both pilots and another person died in
the plane crash. The dead included lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve
Gaines and his sister Cassie, a vocalist, and Dean Kilpatrick, assistant road manager
for the group. Two of the survivors, interviewed from their hospital beds Friday, said
they had almost refused to fly in the chartered airplane, owned by L&J Leasing
Company of Addison Texas. "There had been a lot of mistrust of that airplane since we
chartered it," said Clayton Johnson, the bands stage manager. Johnson said he and
several other passengers met shortly before boarding the piston-engine craft in
Greenville South Carolina, Thursday night to discuss the possibility of refusing to fly it
any longer. He said Cassie Gaines, who died in the crash, also had talked with him
about the possibility of riding in the equipment truck instead of the plane. Johnson said
there was no panic when the pilot announced a crash was imminent, but he said
everyone had expressions of disbelief, and that "several of them starting cursing the
airplane." Stage crewman Kenneth Peden was hesitant to fly also.
"Just before the last trip the engine almost caught fire.
The fuel mixture was wrong, and there was an explosion,
and a flame six feet long came from the right engine."
|Skynyrd crewman nearly nixed plane
A story originally published October 25, 1977
Joe Osborne, a road crewman with Lynyrd Skynyrd, was so unnerved by an engine
flameout, before Thursday night's fatal crash in Gillsburg that he made reservations to
fly the next trip on a commercial airline. But at the last moment he joined his friends in
the band and the road crew on the old chartered Convair 240 in Greenville South
Carolina for the flight to Baton Rouge Louisiana. The band was to perform in concert
before an estimated 10,000 persons at Louisiana State University Friday night. The
plane crashed in thick woods near Gillsburg, eight miles south of the McComb-Pike
County Airport runway, killing three members of the well-known rock band and injuring
20 others. Osborne was on of the others. This morning he was to have facial surgery at
Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center. His wife Melissa said Osborne suffered
numerous small fractures in his forehead and around his nose and a brain concussion
when the plane crashed. The Osborne's, who recently moved to Dallas Texas, from
Little Rock Arkansas said in a letter to the Enterprise-Journal, addressed to the people
of McComb, that they "have been deeply touched by the kind reception we received
from everyone... The only way to ever repay your kindness to us, is to pass on the love
we feel here in McComb to someone else in their time of need. "When we think of you
people this phrase comes to mind, "There will come a night when the morning does not
follow, and all that will be remembered of you is the love you gave out." Osborne and
the other survivors are expected to recover from their injuries, although hospital
spokesmen say some of the injured may be hospitalized for some time. Some survivors
have been discharged from hospitals, and Bill Powell, the bands pianist, was
discharged from Baptist Hospital in Jackson today. The cause of the crash is still in
question while federal investigators continue to check key components of the plane's
wreckage and probe the history of the plane and pilots, both of whom were killed.
Autopsies showed that both died as a result of the crash and that there were "no
pre-existing problems." The primary question still unanswered is how much fuel is
aboard the plane when it crashed just before 7pm Thursday. Rudolf Kasputin, director
of the National Transportation Safety Board team of investigators, said most of the
wreckage has been released to insurance investigators after federal officials completed
their work at the crash. Some parts of the plane have not been released including both
engines, the fuel and ignition systems, components and the propellers. These will be
subjected to additional examination and tests. Also, still being checked are the aircrafts
flight record prior to leaving Greenville South Carolina, Thursday, the servicing
operations which had been performed on the plane, and the tapes of air traffic control
dispatches to the plane from Houston, Atlanta and Greenville. It was learned during the
weekend, Kasputin said, that 400 gallons of fuel were pumped into the planes tanks
before it left Greenville. But the question is how much was on board prior to refueling.
Kasputin has said there is a "distinct possibility" that the plane ran out of gas but he
said a number of other possibilities are being considered. Private investigators from an
insurance company representing owners of the plane also have been combing the
crash site, and said the companies investigation would not end for several weeks. While
the probe into the cause of the crash continues, rumors circulate that large amounts of
money and drugs were on the plane. There have been reports also that another body
was found in the wreckage during the weekend. "It's all false" said Amite County Sheriff
Norman Travis. "Just a pack of rumors" said Pike County Sheriff Robert "Tot" Lawson.
Both were among rescuers the night of the crash and both said they had seen bottles
of medicine and some money and checks. All was confiscated by Travis. Both said
reports of another body found are false. Travis said he and several guards have been
watching the crash site since Friday when National Guard troops left the scene, adding
that most of the money and personal items had been collected for storage at the
courthouse. There were a lot of loose bills all over the place the night of the crash, and
there's no telling what got carried away," Travis said. "But we haven't found any large
amounts of money, and to the owner, no one else.
|PARTS OF MY
On October 20th 1977,
a twin engine plane carrying the Rock 'N'
Roll band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in a
remote section of woods in near
Gillsburg, Mississippi. The plane ran out
of fuel and crashed before
7:00pm, at the wooded property.
Six lives were claimed in the crash
including band members, Ronnie
VanZant, Steve Gaines,
Pilot Walter Wiley McCreary, co-pilot
William John Gray,
and Dean Kilpatrick
(the assistant road manager for the
group). Six other members of the rock
band were injured, two hurt critically and
four hospitalized in stable condition.
Survivor's listed in critical condition,
included members of the group's road
crew and a camera man.
The propeller-driven Convair 240 skidded
across tree tops for about 100 yards,
then slammed into a swampy area and
split open. I interviewed Jacquelyn
Sturdivant Cooper, a family member of
the property owner. She has collected
family archives including newspaper's,
photograph's, and family stories
regarding the day the plane crashed in
the woods behind there house. She also
consulted with her mother Connie, who
was home at the time of the crash, and
tells her story. Interview by
Pat Adams is the webmaster of
www.tennesseeconcerts.com, with over
1,000 Nashville Tennessee area concert
took place in 2006
Who owned the property where the
plane crashed at?
The actual resting place was on the
corner's of three different properties. My
grandparents (Percy & Delores Easley),
Johnny Mote, and Fernwood Industries.
The house closest to the plane crash
belong to my parents (Connie Easley
Sturdivant & Griffin Sturdivant),
my Aunt Lola Easley,
and Johnny Mote.
Where was your family's house
compared to the
Our house was approximately a
quarter mile through pasture and woods
to the crash site.
Who was at home when the plane
My mom (Connie),
my two sisters
(Natalie and Ashley), and my Aunt Lola.
They were eating supper at our house,
when they heard the plane crash. The
windows were open because it was a
cool evening, when they heard a very loud
sound like "metal on metal".
My mom said the sound lasted about
thirty seconds, then nothing. They
jumped in the car and went out to the
road to see if they could find a car crash,
because they had no idea it was a plane.
How did they find
the plane crash?
My Uncle Dwain Easley and his friend
Wayne Blades were hunting close to
where the plane crash occurred, and
heard it. They took off into the swampy
area looking for it, and were the first ones
on the scene. My mother, sisters, and
Aunt Lisa drove by Johnny Mote's house,
where they found Johnny and crash
survivor Artimus Pyle. They had called for
help. They went into the woods and
helicopters were flying around with big
search lights, looking for the plane.
Twenty-six people were in the plane
when it crashed, and my Uncle Dwain
pulled each of them out of the wreckage.
Did anyone see the plane before it
A few miles away, my Uncle Arthur
(Williams) saw the plane and knew it
was going down. He called it in, and
thought it went down close to our house,
which it had.
What have you been
told the crash scene like?
It was swampy, thick woods, and you had
to cross a twenty-foot wide, waist high
creek to get to the plane.
It was a running creek that was between
pasture and more woods. A log was
used to cross over the creek and get to
the crash site. There was total chaos with
helicopters hovering overhead with
search lights to illuminate the crash
scene. Clothes, luggage, money, and
other items scattered .
How did help get through the woods to
They had to bring in a bulldozer to cut a
path into the woods, then cross the
creek. Three ambulances got stuck in the
pasture. People began using pickup
trucks to transport the crash victims. It
took three or more hours to get the
What family members later went to
visit the hospital?
My Aunt Lisa went.
She knew who Lynyrd Skynyrd was, from
listening to their music.
She returned the late Ronnie VanZant's
(singer) hat to his
wife Judy VanZant.
What did the National Guard do at the
They were there to secure the area, so
investigator's could figure out what
happened. Their were so many people
coming down there, and even some of
the rescue people were taking stuff. They
brought in the National Guard to stop all
Who took these picture's of the plane
crash, and when?
They were taken by my Aunt Lisa, the day
after the crash.
Did any of the survivors come back the
visit in the years following following the
Yes, some of them came back to my Aunt
Lisa's house, and to
the nearby campground. They also went
to Johnny Mote's place, too.
What happened to your family
member's that were involved?
They are all still in the area, except my
Aunt Lisa. She died in a car wreck in
January of 1982, about a mile
from the plane crash.
You said Johnny Mote moved, what
happened to him?
He is still in the area, and owner of
Parklane Mini-Storage in McComb
Are there any Lynyrd Skynyrd tributes
in the area?
Not one. I don't understand why not,
because there are
so many fans still.
You went to the Southern Tribute
concert on Johnny Mote's property in
2002 featuring Artimus Pyle, Travis
Tritt and others. How was it?
It rocked! We enjoyed everyone except
for country singer
What are some of your memories of the
Southern Tribute concert?
The best part was when Artimus Pyle got
up on stage and blasted the ones who
tried to stop the "tribute" concert.
Headliner Travis Tritt would not let the
bands play on his (so called)
professional stage because he claimed
that they were not professional enough.
I thought Artimus Pyle said exactly what
needed to be said. We stayed until the
thunderstorm ran everyone off. They
with one of
Ronnie VanZant's hat's on the
Two fifth-size bottles of Jack Daniels
Whiskey were tossed out to the crowd, to
have a toast to the victims of the plane
crash. It was very emotional for everyone.
They rocked, even in the thunderstorm for
a while before the show ended. Artimus
still has it!
Has Lynyrd Skynyrd ever played in the
No, that was the first time any members
have played here. I wish they would come
back. I love their music. I have been able
to relate much of my life to the songs
Lynyrd Skynyrd sang. They were, and will
always be legends to me. As long as the
fans keep there music alive, those band
members didn't die in vain. They died,
and with our help the "bird will continue to
The Tragic Plane Crash Follow up News Reports
|Plane crash questions lingering unanswered
A story originally published November 3,1977
Two weeks after the plane crash that killed three members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd rock
band and three others, questions remaining about missing money, missing personal
items and missing answers to what caused the crash. And what will happen to the
surviving members of the band and to other passengers on the plane, most of who
were employed by Lynyrd Skynyrd Productions Inc.? The twin-engine propeller-driven
Convair 240, said to be built in the 1950's, crashed near Gillsburg October 20 after the
pilot had reported fuel problems. There seems to be no doubt that legal action will be
taken by the survivors against the owners by the survivors against the owners of the
plane, L&J Leasing Company of Addison Texas. The wife of one of the injured persons
said several lawsuits were being prepared, but she noted several years could elapse
before final action of any of the suits is taken. According to the leasing agreement
between L&J and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the leasing company would provide a total of $2
million liability insurance in the amounts of $100,000 liability per seat and hull
insurance for the total value of the aircraft. The band had paid $5,000 in advance on
the lease, total amount of which was $15,034, the agreement said. One section of the
contract stipulated that the "lease shall hold lessor harmless in any event that drugs or
narcotics of any kind should be brought aboard this aircraft for any purpose." A local
attorney said the paragraph meant simply that if illegal drugs were discovered aboard
the plane and arrests were made, the leasing company would not face charges and the
plane would not be confiscated by authorities for having been used to carry such
drugs. Investigators at the crash scene October 20 said bottles of medicine were found
in the wreckage. The lease agreement was signed by L&J president Lewis L. May Jr
and Lynyrd Skynyrd tour manager Ron Eckerman. The advance check for the planes
lease was signed by Eckerman and the band's lead singer, Ronny Van Zant, who died
in the crash. It was Eckerman, who returned to his home in Florida this week after being
hospitalized in McComb, who said that $1,100 was missing from his briefcase after it
was recovered from the wreckage. Eckerman said he was carrying $88,743.58 in
checks and $8,000 in cash on the flight. All of the checks and $6,900 in cash were
returned to him by Sheriff Norman Travis in his hospital room last week. Several loose
bills, most of them apparently scattered when a poker game aboard the plane was
interrupted by the crash, were picked up by persons at the scene, but Eckerman said
his money was securely locked in a briefcase and that someone had to pry the case to
get the money out. That money was used to pay the group's travelling expenses while
on tour, he said. Meanwhile, group manager Mike Kinnamon is seeking the return of
several items allegedly taken from the wreckage. He specifically is looking for a
guitar in an oversized, white guitar case.
Above: Text and newspaper images from the Enterprise-Journal
in McComb Mississippi, USA October 21, 1977
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|A Coast Guard Achievement Award for one of the rescuers at the plane crash scene
Read about his achievements at the plane crash site. Unfortunately, he drowned a few years later
Walter Joseph Gorski - Hospital Corpsman Second Class - United States Coast Guard
Click on Image to enlarge & read about Walter Gorski's rescue efforts on this historic day in music history
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