Lynyrd Skynyrd's Plane Crash: Remembering The Night That Changed Southern Rock
    • FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017

    • Posted by: Chris Deverell

    It seems that in Rock and Roll lore, for every ecstatic high, there must, unfortunately, be an equally heart-rending low. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the numerous untimely deaths of so many talented musicians. Yet even as far as untimely deaths go, the loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant and siblings Steve and Cassie Gaines in 1977 feels mockingly premature. It was on this day 40 years ago when that ill-fated flight from Greenville, South Carolina, took the lives of those three, as well as three others on board.

    Somewhat of a mythos surrounds that crash and the details of the lives of those involved leading up to it. Most eerily was Van Zant's premonition years earlier that he would die before the age of 30, "with his boots on". Van Zant's way of saying that he would go out on the road. Additionally, there was a degree of fear and speculation from several of the band members over whether or not they should board the plane, which had been spouting flames from its right engine only two days before. Even Aerosmith backed out of using the same plane when their assistant chief of flight operations claimed he saw the pilots smoking and drinking in the cockpit.

    Instead, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd boarded the plane, bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The flight took off without a fuss, and tensions amongst those onboard quickly dissipated. That peace would be interrupted though by the sudden shutdown of the plane's right engine, followed shortly thereafter by the failure of the second engine. In a freefall, the plane came down in Gillsburg, Mississippi.

    Theories and "what-ifs?" abound even decades after the crash, with many wondering what could have become of what was one of the biggest up-and-coming acts at the time. Skynyrd's album Street Survivors had gone gold only three days before the crash, and the band was scheduled to play in Madison Square Garden, by far their largest performance to date.

    Instead, the crash would shatter lives and dreams, scattering members of the band into other projects and paths in life, until they were reunited 10 years later, with five of the original surviving band members coming back together under the Skynyrd identity. 30 years later, in the present day, only Gary Rossington remains as the last original member. The band continues to play shows, some questionable, with a restocked lineup to this day, and the free birds of the southern rock and roll seem comfortable with their position today. Yet, one still can't help but wonder what would have been if not for a fateful crash in the darkness of a Mississippi swamp 40 years ago today.

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