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.
MY INTERVIEW WITH
JACQUELYN COOPER
AT THE CRASH SCENE
By Pat Adams

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,
Cassie 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
pictures.

The Interview
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
plane crash?
Our house was approximately a
quarter mile through pasture and woods
to the crash site.

Who was at home when the plane
crash occurred?
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
crashed?
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 the scene?
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
victims out.

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
crash scene?
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 that.

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 plane crash?
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
Mississippi.

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
Travis Tritt.

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
played "Freebird"
with one of
Ronnie VanZant's hat's on the
microphone.
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 area?
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 fly free".
Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Tragic Plane Crash Follow up News Reports
Plus: Exclusive Interview & Comments from the Plane Crash Sight
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
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tribute Pages
LYNYRD SKYNYRD
PLANE CRASH
30th ANNIVERSARY
by Connie Richardson
(Jacquelyn Cooper's mothers
comments from the crash
sight on the 30th Anniversary
of this 1977 plane crash)

When people get hurt, there's a
smell, says Connie Richardson.

"Blood smell, sweat smell, fear
smell. I guess the smell of death.
If you ever go to an emergency
room after a car crash," says
Richardson, a former X-ray
technician, "you'll smell it."

But it wasn't a car that crashed
on the evening of Oct. 20, 1977,
scattering that smell across her
family's property near Gillsburg.
It was a plane. It had carried 26
people, including members of the
rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. A
mom, who lost one of her lips,
but still spoke about her children,
thanking God out loud that they
weren't on the plane with her.

Today, at the approach of the
Day Free Bird died – a reference
to the band's anthem – people
like Richardson, the people of
Amite and Pike counties who
were there, don't pretend to
make sense of the tragedy 30
years later. They draw no life
lessons, except maybe one or
two.

One: Sometimes, people die for
no reason.
Two: Sometimes, certain smells
stay with you.

"As a matter of fact," says
Richardson of Magnolia, "after
the crash, somebody in the band
gave my sister an album they
were just about to release.
"There's a song on it: That
Smell. "I think someone in the
family still has it."

It was late afternoon when the
plane flew low over Delaware
Avenue in McComb.
"I thought it was going to the
airport," says John Thompson
Jr., "which is what they should
have done. It was so close.
"About three miles away."

Thompson, who turns 82 on
Monday, was mayor of McComb.
In January 1975, a category 4
tornado had butchered his town,
killing nine people, injuring 210.
By comparison, the plane crash
several miles away wouldn't
seem so bad. But it was bad
enough. The pilot's goal had
been Baton Rouge. But his plane
ran out of fuel. He made it no
farther than a patch of woods
near a creek at the corner of
three different pieces of property.

The owners were Johnny Mote,
Fernwood Industries and Connie
Richardson's parents. "I
remember the day after the
crash, a radio station played
nothing but Lynyrd Skynyrd
tunes," Thompson says.

"I had a couple of retail stores
then, with some young guys
working for me. They were
hooting and a-hollering about it.
"Until then, I had no earthly idea
of who Lynyrd Skynyrd was. I'm a
Glenn Miller type. "Glenn Miller,
a popular big-band leader,
disappeared over the English
Channel in 1944. He was on a
plane.

David Williams, who was 14 at
the time, saw something flying
high over his home in Gillsburg.
An hour or so later, he would be
holding a flashlight over bodies
in its wreckage.

"I didn't know it was an airplane I
had seen," he says. "It looked
like a bird as far as I could tell. I
was just a city kid who had
arrived there recently. "I was
chasing girls, not airplanes."

Four bodies lay outside Renan
Richmond's office.

One was Cassie Gaines, a
singer with the band. Five other
people had died as well: band
members Ronnie Van Zant and
Steve Gaines, assistant road
manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot
Walter McCreary and co-pilot
William Gray.

"We had a small morgue, that's
why some were initially brought
to the hall," Richmond says.
"Working in a hospital, I had
seen some pretty bad things. I
just did what my job called for."

Richmond's job at the time was
administrative assistant at
Southwest Mississippi Regional
Medical Center in McComb.
Nineteen of the 20 survivors
went there first; the 20th went to
another area hospital.

It was Richmond who called the
National Guard and asked for
helicopters and a truck for the
rescue mission in the woods.

"I was in the National Guard at
the time," says Richmond, 73.
"Two National Guard helicopters
went out there, and one Coast
Guard helicopter, which had a
monstrous light on the bottom.

"We worked all night at the
hospital. I got home about 3 or 4
in the morning. I had gotten calls
from around the world. "I didn't
know what a Lynyrd Skynyrd
was. All these calls, asking if
Lynyrd had been killed.

Van Zant, the lead singer, was
often mistaken for "Lynyrd".

But the passengers who did, and
their families and hangers-on,
were grateful to the rescuers and
medical staff, Richmond says. All
but one.

"About 8 P.M. the next night, the
sheriff came in and went up to
one of them. I don't know who it
was. Not a band member, but
someone who worked for the
band.

"The sheriff said he had $89,000
he and his men had found
scattered in the woods. The
guy's comment was, 'Where's the
other $5,000?' "

"For a rural town, that type of
personality was a change"
Jacquelyn Cooper &
Connie Richardson
from the plane crash
sight in Mississippi
We appreciate having the first
in-depth information from the
crash scene, as well as use of
the family archives from the
plane crash. The crash
happened near the family home,
with several family members
helping out at the scene.
Connie helped out, her brother  
was one of the first people on
the scene, and Connie's sister
Lisa saved the newspapers, as
well as pictures taken the next
day. Sadly, Lisa died in a car
crash. Thanks to Jacquelyn and
her family for sharing this
information, as well as her
family's rescue efforts
after this tragic plane crash.
Several people that were in the
crash have been in touch with
this family and appreciate them.
Connie & Jacquelyn
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