Musicians Who Died in Air Accidents


Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death Monday in a helicopter crash serves as a reminder that the life of a touring musician often includes trips in small aircraft under less-than-optimum conditions. As a result, air-crash deaths have been part of the legacy of popular music since before rock ‘n’ roll was born.

For some, including Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, death came early in promising and groundbreaking careers. Others, such as successful hit-maker Jim Croce, suddenly became mourned legends.

These were the earlier victims:

Rick Nelson, Dec. 31, 1985--A New Year’s Eve plane crash near De Kalb, Tex., claimed the life of Nelson, 45, first known for teen-age hits including “I’m Walkin’ ” and “Travelin’ Man” recorded when he was a star on his family’s ‘50s and ‘60s television series, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Nelson returned to the Top 10 with “Garden Party” in 1972.


Randy Rhoads, March 19, 1982--The 25-year-old guitarist was a rising star of hard rock through his work with Ozzy Osbourne when he died in a light plane crash in Leesburg, Fla. The plane hit Osbourne’s parked tour bus, in which the singer and his wife were sleeping, though both were uninjured.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Oct. 21, 1977--Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his back-up singer and sister, Cassie, of the Jacksonville, Fla., band were killed in a plane crash near McComb, Miss., during a concert tour. The group was the epitome of Southern-rock, with a hell-raising, good ol’ boy image. Surviving members reunited in 1987 for a concert tour.

Jim Croce, Sept. 20, 1973--The singer-songwriter of No. 1 hits “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle” died in a crash near Natchitoches, La., at age 30.

Otis Redding, Dec. 10, 1967--Redding, 26, and members of his Memphis-based band, the Bar-Kays, died in a Wisconsin crash. The electrifying soul singer’s R&B; hits included “Respect” and “Try a Little Tenderness.” “Sittin’ on the Dock of The Bay,” released just three days before the crash, went on to be his biggest and best-known song.

Jim Reeves, July 31, 1964--Known for hits like “Welcome to My World” and “He’ll Have to Go,” Reeves died at age 39 in a light plane crash near Nashville.

Patsy Cline, March 5, 1963--The singer of such country hits as “Crazy” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” died in a plane crash near Camden, Tenn., at age 31, along with Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins and pilot Randy Hughes, who was also Cline’s manager.


Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. (the Big Bopper) Richardson; Feb. 3, 1959--Holly, 22, Valens, 18, and Richardson, 29, died in an ice-covered field near Mason City, Iowa, following a show in Clear Lake. The tale has been retold in the movies “The Buddy Holly Story” and the Valens film biography “La Bamba.”

Glenn Miller, Dec. 15, 1944--The big band leader, arranger and trombone player most remembered for such hits as “In the Mood” was lost while en route over the English Channel to give a show to World War II troops in Paris.