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."