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."
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.
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.
Text & newspaper images from the Enterprise-Journal,
McComb Mississippi, USA October 21, 1977
VIDEO: Lynyrd Skynyrd - The Legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd Documentary - By Tom Wills - 2019 (from YouTube)
This page was created by Pat Adams in Nashville Tennessee, with the help of Jacquelyn Cooper
in Gillsburg Mississippi (plane crash scene). Thanks to Jacquelyn for the Newspaper and Pictures!
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
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