Lynyrd Skynyrd was best known for popularizing the southern hard-rock genre during the 1970s. Originally formed in 1964 as the The Noble Five in Jacksonville, Florida, the band rose to worldwide recognition on the basis of its driving live performances and signature tunes “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Free Bird” and ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’. Lynyrd Skynyrd had established themselves as one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s by the time they released ‘Street Survivors‘ in October of 1977. The group’s career would come to a tragic halt just three days later, on Oct. 20, 1977, when their twin engine plane went down in a swamp in Gillsburg, Missouri, killing three of the band members.It was one of the most devastating days in American music. The crash killed six people, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and siblings guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines. The band’s pilot, co-pilot and assistant road manager also died in the crash, and many more were injured.

lynskynplanecrash1On October 20, 1977, just three days after the release of Street Survivors, and five shows into their most successful headlining tour to date, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s chartered Convair CV-300 ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina, where they had just performed at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, and were en route to LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was known that the right engine’s magnetos — an ignition device that provides spark and timing for the engine — had been malfunctioning (Powell, among others, spoke of seeing flames shooting out of the right engine on a trip just prior to the accident), and that pilots McCreary and Gray had intended to repair the damaged part when the traveling party arrived in Baton Rouge. Cassie Gaines was reportedly so fearful of flying in the Convair that she offered to ride in the band’s equipment truck instead: Ronnie Van Zant had talked her onto the airplane on October 20.

Three days before the crash, the band had released its latest album, “Street Survivors,” which originally featured a cover showing the band surrounded by flames (it was quickly changed). The album became a hit, but the decimated band broke up, only to reunite in 1987 and begin touring again. Anticipation for the new album was so high that it went gold within days, and Lynyrd Skynyrd embarked on the most ambitious headlining tour of their career, traveling between concert dates in their own Convair CV-300. Lynyrd Skynyrd were traveling from Greenville, S.C. to Baton Rouge, La. when their plane apparently ran out of fuel toward the end of the flight. The pilots attempted to land on a small air strip, but the bottom of the plane clipped some trees, and the aircraft went down in a remote stand of forest.

lynryd_skynryd_liveIn 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a full-scale tour with five major members of the pre-crash band: crash survivors Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle, along with guitarist Ed King, who had left the band two years before the crash. Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer and primary songwriter. Due to Collins’ paralysis from a 1986 car accident, he was only able to participate as the musical director, choosing Randall Hall, his former bandmate in the Allen Collins Band, as his stand-in. As part of his plea deal, Collins would be wheeled out onstage each night to explain to the audience why he could no longer perform. But despite a successful reunion, tragedy and drama continued to plague the group; guitarist Allen Collins had become paralyzed after a drunk driving accident in 1986 that killed his girlfriend, and he died in 1990.

Their music lives on,”Sweet Home Alabama” especially has a permanent place in rock history. A whole generation of fans who love the song weren’t even around for the crash, which has passed into shadowy musical legend.The site lets interested persons read about the crash as it was covered in real-time by the local paper, the Enterprise-Journal.


The movie Freebird is an in-depth look at Southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Released on August 30, 1996, it is part documentary and part concert footage.

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