MY 2006 INTERVIEW WITH JACQUELYN COOPER AT THE CRASH SCENE
By Pat Adams (from the Tennessee Concerts website)
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 Editor of www.tennesseeconcerts.com, with over 1,000 Nashville Tennessee 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 Lola (Easley) 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.
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?
Johnny Mote is still in the area, his kids and grandchildren and in the area, Brenda, his ex wife is very active and involved in all the Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial Tribute stuff that is going on. She is related to us actually, and she lives very close to the crash site as well. (edited in 2021)
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".
Originally posted on the www.TennesseeConcerts.com website.