On this day in history, Oct. 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates killed in horrific plane crash
Three musicians from the iconic American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, plus three other people, were killed in a terrifying plane crash on the Louisiana-Mississippi border on this day in history, Oct. 20, 1977.
Lead singer and founder Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, were all killed on impact.
The crash of the small Convair CV-240 passenger plane also claimed the lives of assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray.
Twenty people survived.
“The crash took away one of the great American musicians,” Gene Odom, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s security manager, and one of the survivors of the crash, told Fox News Digital.
“It took from me a lifelong dear friend and fishing buddy.”
Odom grew up with Van Zant and other founding members of the band in Jacksonville, Florida.
The plane ran out of fuel at about 10,000 feet and crashed violently into a wooded area.
Odom helped lead a vigil to Van Zant and the other victims last night near the town of Gillsburg, Mississippi. A memorial was erected near the site of the crash in 2019.
Odom was thrown from the plane and found by rescuers some time later under one of the wings, with terrible injuries.
He suffered a “massive hole in the head from flying through the fuselage, a broken neck, broken ribs and 45 years of pain,” he said.
It was only after Odom got out of the hospital that he learned Van Zant and the others were dead.
“The only reason so many survived is that there was no fuel left on the plane. So there was no fire,” said Odom.
Guitarist Gaines, he said, had just joined the band a year earlier, at the behest of his sister Cassie, the singer who was also killed in the crash.
“He was going to be a star, a rose that never got to bloom,” said Odom.
Lynyrd Skynyrd remains one of the biggest acts in music history and is arguably the top American rock band of all time.
The band has toured for decades with Johnny Van Zant, the founder’s younger brother, on lead vocals. They largely play songs written and first performed by Ronnie Van Zant a half-century ago — a testament to his enduring legacy in rock history.
“Sweet Home Alabama,” one of the band’s signature songs, an ode to “the Southland,” boasts nearly 1 billion plays on Spotify, nearly 50 years after it was recorded in 1974.
The band’s signature tune, “Free Bird,” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut 1973 album, is a rock epic. The song’s impact has expanded beyond music and embedded itself in wider pop culture.
It was heard in the movie “Forrest Gump” while a video of the band performing the song in Oakland in July 1977 has generated tens of millions of plays on YouTube.
“This definitive Southern-rock guitar epic had a humble birth, with late Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant scribbling lyrics about keeping love alive on tour,” according to an article in Rolling Stone about “Free Bird.” The publication included the tune on its 2021 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The band’s aircraft was flying to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from Greenville, South Carolina, where Van Zant closed the show with “Free Bird.”
He never performed again.
“Old Lynyrd Skynyrd still sells a couple million albums a year,” said Odom.
“Elvis, The Beatles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. How ’bout that for my old fishing buddy?”