“The Day The Music Died”

Tuesday, 3rd of February, 1959 (62 years ago)

A Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, operated by Dwyer Flying Service, Inc, registration N3794N, flying from Mason City Municipal Airport, Iowa, to Hector Airport, North Dakota, impacted cornfield terrain while on initial climb in bad weather conditions near Clear Lake, Iowa, USA.

A similiar Beechcraft Bonanza that was the last flight for the Rock and Roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Richardson. (Not the accident aircraft.)

The aircraft was completely destroyed. The four occupants (Rock and Roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson.) were fatally injured.

History

The plane took off normally from runway 17 (today’s runway 18) at 12:55 am Central Time on Tuesday, February 3. Dwyer witnessed the take-off from a platform outside the control tower. He was able to see clearly the aircraft’s tail light for most of the brief flight, which started with an initial left turn onto a northwesterly heading and a climb to 800 ft. The tail light was then observed gradually descending until it disappeared out of view. Around 1:00 am, when Peterson failed to make the expected radio contact, repeated attempts to establish communication were made, at Dwyer’s request, by the radio operator, but they were all unsuccessful.

Later that morning, Dwyer, having heard no word from Peterson since his departure, took off in another airplane to retrace his planned route. Within minutes, at around 9:35 am, he spotted the wreckage less than 6 mi (9.7 km) northwest of the airport. The sheriff’s office, alerted by Dwyer, dispatched Deputy Bill McGill, who drove to the crash site, a cornfield belonging to Albert Juhl.

The Bonanza had impacted terrain at high speed, estimated to have been around 170 mph (270 km/h), banked steeply to the right and in a nose-down attitude. The right wing tip had struck the ground first, sending the aircraft cartwheeling across the frozen field for 540 feet (160 m), before coming to rest against a wire fence at the edge of Juhl’s property. The bodies of Holly and Valens had been ejected from the torn fuselage and lay near the plane’s wreckage. Richardson’s body had been thrown over the fence and into the cornfield of Juhl’s neighbor Oscar Moffett, while Peterson’s body was entangled in the wreckage.

With the rest of the entourage en route to Minnesota, Anderson, who had driven the party to the airport and witnessed the plane’s takeoff, had to identify the bodies of the musicians. County coroner Ralph Smiley certified that all four victims died instantly, citing the cause of death as “gross trauma to brain” for the three artists and “brain damage” for the pilot.

Cause

‘The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely by instruments when he was not properly certificated or qualified to do so. Contributing factors were serious deficiencies in the weather briefing, and the pilot’s unfamiliarity with the instrument which determines the attitude of the aircraft.”

Photos via lostflights.com and other.

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