The 1959 Crash of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper"
An IFR/Accident Summary Report by Guy Foster [The Baby Ace Man]
On February 3rd, 1959 a small private airplane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa on a cold winter night bound for Fargo, N.D. It never made its destination. The plane crashed claiming the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot, Roger Peterson. Three of Rock and Roll's most promising performers were gone.
Air crash, Feb. 3, 1959
SW1/4 Section 18, Lincoln Twp.
Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Jiles P. Richardson, Charles Holley, Richard Valenzuela and Roger A. Peterson, pilot of the plane were killed in the crash of a chartered airplane when it fell within minutes of takeoff from the Mason City Airport. The three passengers were members of a troupe of entertainers who appeared at the Surf Ballroom at Clear Lake, Iowa, the evening of February 2, 1959, bound for Fargo, N.D. and was headed northwest from the airport at the time of the crash in a stubble field, 5-1/2 miles north of Clear Lake, Iowa. The plane was discovered about 9:00 A.M., February 3, 1959, when Mr. H.J. Dwyer, owner of the crashed plane, made an aerial search because he had received no word from Peterson since his takeoff.
The wreckage had been approached only by Deputy Sheriff Bill McGill in his sheriff's car before I arrived about 11:15 A.M. At this time two sheriff's cars, two highway patrol cars and cars carrying members of the press, both reporters and photographers, and representatives of TV and radio stations and a few spectators were allowed to pass through the gate into the field where the crash occurred. Approach was made in a circuitous route to avoid disturbing wreckage and debris from the crash.
The wreckage lay about 1/2 mile west from the nearest north-south gravel road and the farmhomes of the Albert Juhl's and the Delbert Juhl's. The main part of the plane lay against the barbed wire fence at the north end of the stubble field in which it came to earth. It had skidded and/or rolled approximately 570 feet from point of impact directed northwesterly. The shape of the mass of wreckage approximated a ball with one wing sticking up diagonally from one side. The body of Roger Peterson was enclosed by wreckage with only the legs visible sticking upward. Richard Valenzuela's body was south, lying prone, head directed south 17 feet from the wreckage; Charles Holley's body, also in the prone position, was lying southwest, head directed southwest, 17 feet from the wreckage; and J.P. Richardson's body, lying partly prone and partly on the right side, was northwest of the wreckage, head directed south 40 feet from the wreckage, across the fence in a picked cornfield. Fine snow which fell lightly after the crash had drifted slightly about the bodies and wreckage. Some parts of each body had been frozen by ten hours' exposure in temperature reported to have been near 18 degrees during that time. The three bodies on the ground were removed before I left. Peterson's body was removed after permission was granted by the inspector for the Civil Aeronautics Board and Federal Aviation Agency. This was done by Deputy Sheriffs Wm. McGill and Lowell Sandquist using metal cutting tools to open a space in the wreckage.
At the scene of the crash Mr. Carroll Anderson was helpful in tentatively identifying the bodies from the clothing.
A large brown leather suitcase with one catch open lay near one leg of Charles Holley, and about 8ft. north of the same body lay a travel case with brown leather ends and sides of a light plaid color. This measured approximately 15 in. x 12 in. x 6 in.
A billfold containing the name of Tommy Douglas Allsup and a leather pocket case marked with the name, "Ritchie Valens" were brought to me at the scene by Deputy Sheriff inspecting the ground over which the wreckage had skidded and rolled.
Glen Kellogg of Clear Lake took some photos of the scene at the request of Sheriff Jerry Allen and me. News and TV photographers also took still pictures and movies of the scene.
The plane was a Beech-Craft Bonanza, No. N3794N, painted red, with white and black trim. Deputy Sheriff Lowell Sandquist, an experienced pilot, who has flown in and out of the Mason City airport, was present when the radio and navigational equipment from the plane were examined. He reports the radio to have been set for listening and talking to the Mason City Airport Station MCW, and the navigational equipment to have been correctly set for a course from Mason City to Fargo, N.D.
Arrangements for the flight were made by Mr. Carroll Anderson, Manager of the Surf Ballroom at Clear Lake, Iowa, with Mr. H.J. Dwyer, fixed base operator for the Mason City Airport. The reasons given to Mr. Anderson for the flight were that all three passengers wished to reach their next destination in their itinerary ahead of the chartered bus which carried the rest of the troupe in order to have some laundry done. Mr. Anderson drove the three passengers to the airport in his family automobile. Accompanying him were his wife and 8-year-old son. They saw the plane take off and make its circle to take up its course.
The Air Traffic Communication Center of the Federal Aviation Agency at the Mason City Municipal Airport. reported to me that at 0058 on February 3rd, the wind was south, gusty to 20 M.P.H., temperature 18 degrees F., dew point 11. In takeoff, the plane followed a normal procedure using the runway toward the south and turning in a counterclockwise direction. The amount of snow falling from midnight to 6:30 A.M. on February 3rd was listed as a trace.
Further information from them was that as the pilot taxied down the runway he communicated by radio with the tower and secured additional information about the weather en route. He told the officer in charge in the tower he would file a flight plan after getting in the air. When this information did not come in, the officer tried to reach the pilot without getting a reply.
An official investigation was carried on by a crew of field representatives headed by Mr. C.E. Stillwagon of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Bureau of Safety Investigation, 4825 Treost Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, and Mr. A.J. Prokop, Federal Aviation Agency, Des Moines office. This group spent three days on the investigation arriving here the evening of February 3rd. They visited the scene of the crash for preliminary survey before dark that day.
I, Ralph E. Smiley, M.D., Acting Coroner of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, on the 4th day of February, 1959 hereby certify that the above facts are made of record after diligent investigation and I believe them to be correct.
Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report
Unofficial; “On the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper”
Aircraft Accident Report
Adopted: September 15, 1959
Released September 23, 1959 Mason City, Iowa
February 3, 1959
Full Text Synopsis
A Beech Bonanza, N 3794N, crashed at night approximately 5 miles northwest of the Mason City Municipal Airport, Mason City, Iowa, at approximately 0100, February 3, 1959. The pilot and three passengers were killed and the aircraft was demolished.
The aircraft was observed to take off toward the south in a normal manner, turn and climb to an estimated altitude of 800 feet, and then head in a northwesterly direction. When approximately 5 miles had been traversed, the tail light of the aircraft was seen to descend gradually until it disappeared from sight. Following this, many unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the aircraft by radio. The wreckage was found in a field later that morning.
This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot's decision to undertake a flight in which the likelihood of encountering instrument conditions existed, in the mistaken belief that he could cope with en route instrument weather conditions, without having the necessary familiarization with the instruments in the aircraft and without being properly certificated to fly solely by instruments.
Charles Hardin, J.P. Richardson, and Richard Valenzuela were members of a group of entertainers appearing in Clear Lake, Iowa, the night of Feb. 2, 1959. The following night they were to appear in Moorhead, Minnesota. Because of bus trouble, which had plagued the group, these three decided to go to Moorhead ahead of the others. Accordingly, arrangements were made through Roger Peterson of the Dwyer Flying Service, Inc., located on the Mason City Airport, to charter an aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest airport to Moorhead.
At approximately 1730 (5:30 PM),* Pilot Peterson went to the Air Traffic Communications Station (ATCS), which was located in a tower on top of the Administration Building, to obtain the necessary weather information pertinent to the flight. This included the current weather at Mason City, Iowa; Minneapolis, Redwood Falls, and Alexandria, Minnesota and the terminal forecast for Fargo, North Dakota. He was advised by the communicator that all these stations were reporting ceilings of 5,000 feet or better and visibility of 10 miles or above; also, that the Fargo terminal forecast indicated the possibility of light snow showers after 0200 (2:00 AM) and a cold frontal passage about 0400 (4:00 AM). The communicator told Peterson that a later terminal forecast would be available at 2300 (11:00 PM). (Later after 5:30 PM) at 2200 (10:00 PM) and again at 2330 (11:30PM) Pilot Peterson called ATCS concerning the weather. At the latter time he was advised that the stations en route were reporting ceilings of 4,200 feet or better with visibility still 10 miles or greater. Light snow was reported at Minneapolis. The cold front previously reported by the communicator as forecast to pass Fargo at 0400 (4:00 AM) was now reported to pass there at 0200 (2:00 AM). The Mason City weather was reported to the pilot as: ceiling measured 6,000 (feet) overcast; visibility 15 miles plus; temperature 15 degrees; dew point 8 degrees; wind south 25 to 32 knots; altimeter setting 29.96 inches.
At 2355 (5 minutes before midnight), Peterson, accompanied by Hubert Dwyer, a certificated commercial pilot, the local fixed-base operator at the Mason City Airport, and owner of Bonanza N3794N (the aircraft used on the flight), again went to ATCS for the latest weather information. The local weather had changed somewhat in that the ceiling had lowered to 5,000 feet, light snow was falling, and the altimeter setting was now 29.90 inches (barometer drop of .06 inches since last report).
The passengers arrived at the airport about 0040 (40 minutes after 12 in the AM) and after their baggage had been properly stowed on board, the pilot and passengers boarded the aircraft. Pilot Peterson told Mr. Dwyer that he would file his flight plan by radio when airborne. While the aircraft was being taxied to the end of runway 17, Peterson called ATCS and asked for the latest local and en route weather. This was given him as not having changed materially en route; however, the local weather was now reported as: Precipitation ceiling 3,000 feet (falling 50% or 3,000 feet since the first ATCS report), sky obscured; visibility 6 miles (falling 40% or 4 miles or more since the first ATCS report); light snow (where traces had previously been reported); wind south 20 knots, gusts to 30 knots; altimeter setting 29.85 inches (barometer had dropped .11 inches since the first report)..
A normal takeoff was made at 0055 (5 minutes to 1:00 AM) and the aircraft was observed to make a left 180-degree turn and climb to approximately 800 feet and then, after passing the airport to the east, to head in a northwesterly direction. Through most of the flight the tail light of the aircraft was plainly visible to Mr. Dwyer, who was watching from a platform outside the tower. When about five miles from the airport, Dwyer saw the tail light of the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight. When Peterson did not report his flight plan by radio soon after takeoff, the communicator, at Mr. Dwyer's request, repeatedly tried to reach him but was unable to do so. The time was approximately 0100 (1:00 AM).
After an extensive air search, the wreckage of N3794N was sighted in an open farm field at approximately 0935 (9:35 AM) that morning. All occupants were dead and the aircraft was demolished. The field in which the aircraft was found was level and covered with about four inches of snow.
The accident occurred in a sparsely inhabited area and there were not witnesses. Examination of the wreckage indicated that the first impact with the ground was made by the right wing tip when the aircraft was in a steep right bank and in a nose-low attitude. It was further determined that the aircraft was traveling at high speed on a heading of 315 degrees. Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet, at the end of which the main wreckage was found lying against a barbed wire fence. The three passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage, the pilot was found in the cockpit.
The two front seat safety belts and the middle ones of the rear seat were torn free from their attach points. The two rear outside belt ends remained attached to their respective fittings; the buckle of one was broken. None of the webbing was broken and no belts were about the occupants.
Although the aircraft was badly damaged, certain important facts were determined. There was no fire. All components were accounted for at the wreckage site. There was no evidence of inflight structural failure or failure of the controls. The landing gear was retracted at the time of impact. The damaged engine was dismantled and examined; there was no evidence of engine malfunctioning or failure in flight. Both blades of the propeller were broken at the hub, giving evidence that the engine was producing power when ground impact occurred. The hub pitch-change mechanisms indicated that the blade pitch was in the cruise range.
Despite the damage to the cockpit the following readings were obtained:
Magneto switches were both in the "off" position.
Battery and generator switches were in the "on" position.
The tachometer R.P.M. needle was stuck at 2200.
Fuel pressure, oil temperature and pressure gauges were stuck in the normal or green range.
The attitude gyro indicator was stuck in a manner indicative of a 90-degree angle.
The rate of climb indicator was stuck at 3,000-feet-per-minute descent.
The airspeed indicator needle was stuck between 165-170 mph.
The directional gyro was caged.
The omni selector was positioned at 114.9, the frequency of the Mason City omni range.
The course selector indicated a 360-degree course.
The transmitter was tuned to 122.1, the frequency for Mason City.
The Lear autopilot was not operable.
The Accident Aircraft
The aircraft, a Beech Bonanza, model 35, S/N-1019, identification N 3794N, was manufactured October 17, 1947. It was powered by a Continental model E185-8 engine which had a total of 40 hours since major overhaul. The aircraft was purchased by the Dwyer Flying Service, July 1, 1958, and, according to records and the testimony of the licensed mechanic employed by Dwyer, had been properly maintained since its acquisition. N3794N was equipped with high and low frequency radio transmitters and receivers, a Narca omnigator, Lear autopilot (only recently installed and not operable), all the necessary engine and navigational instruments, and a full panel of instruments used for instrument flying, including a Sperry F3 attitude Gyro.
Beechcraft (Beech) Bonanza, Model 35 History
Sporting a distinctive V-shaped or “butterfly” tail, the Beechcraft Bonanza set the standard for the stylish yet well-equipped aircraft for the private pilot, albeit one who could afford to fly in relative luxury. Since its introduction in 1947, the Bonanza has been admired as a “classic” in the aviation world, even earning Fortune magazine's prestigious award in 1959 as one of the 100 best designed mass-production products.
The Beech Aircraft Corporation, confident in its manufacturing capacity after World War II, positioned itself for the postwar era by designing a revolutionary single-engine aircraft with a V-tail configuration that trimmed weight without compromising control. Company founder Walter Beech envisioned a light aircraft with a level of performance and comfort that would distinguish it from the competition.
In theory, the Bonanza's V-tail design uses only two surfaces to perform its function as compared to the three surfaces of a conventional straight-tail design. This reduction in surfaces reduces both drag and weight, while also lowering the probability of tail buffeting from the wakes generated by the aircraft's wing and canopy. Aircraft control response with the V-tail is equivalent to that of a conventional tail of 40 percent greater surface area. Manufacturing costs for the V-tail design are also lower because fewer parts are required to fabricate only two surfaces instead of three.
The Bonanza (Model 35) made its first test flight just after the war's end on December 22, 1945, with pilot Vern Carstens at the controls. This flight test phase would be marred by a 1946 accident when the V-tail broke away from the Bonanza's fuselage during a high-speed dive, killing the test pilot but sparing the flight engineer. Walter Beech ordered continued aggressive testing of the Bonanza, eventually accumulating more than 1,500 hours of flight time without further incident.
The post-war boom in civil aviation translated into marketing success for Beech – more than 1,400 advance orders for new Bonanzas were placed even before the start of production. In March 1947, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Authority issued its Approved Type Certificate for the Bonanza (Model 35) and full-scale production of the new aircraft commenced.
The Beech Aircraft plant in Wichita, Kansas, quickly mobilized to meet the demand for the new aircraft, delivering about 1,000 Bonanzas by the end of 1947 at the then-hefty price of $7,975 each. The Bonanza quickly developed a solid reputation as a versatile personal and business aircraft and would soon make an impact on the non-flying public as well.
Beech decided to showcase the Bonanza's performance and reliability by sponsoring William Odom's world-record attempt for the longest non-stop solo flight. Odom's aircraft, nicknamed the Waikiki Beech, was specially modified with additional fuel and oil reserves, increasing the Bonanza's range more than fivefold to 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers). From March 6-8, 1949, Odom flew the Waikiki Beech across the Pacific from Hawaii to California, then cross-country to Teterboro Airport, New Jersey. Flying 5,273 miles (8,486 kilometers) in just over 36 hours (while burning only 272 gallons [1,030 liters] of fuel) earned William Odom a place in aviation history; tragically, he was killed in a racing accident later that year. The Waikiki Beech Bonanza was subsequently donated to the Smithsonian Institution's collection of historic aircraft.
The V-tail Bonanza design continued to evolve over the next two decades – the fuselage was lengthened, followed by the introduction of a fuel-injected engine - increasing the aircraft's overall performance. The Bonanza features a fully retractable undercarriage, making it both streamlined and aerodynamic while airborne, capable of carrying up to five passengers and 277 pounds (126 kilograms) of luggage stowed behind the rear seats. First introduced in the 1970s, the V35B model Bonanza was powered by a 285-horsepower (213-kilowatt) Continental flat-six piston engine with a 44-gallon (167-liter) fuel capacity. The V35B was capable of cruising at 157 miles per hour (253 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), with a maximum speed of 210 miles per hour (338 kilometers per hour) (at sea level) and a range of 1,020 miles (1,642 kilometers).
The 10,000th Bonanza came off the production line in February 1977, but five years later, Beech discontinued production of the V-tail Bonanza to concentrate solely on the straight-tail Bonanza 36. Concerns over the safety of the V-tail design (and the resultant liability) undoubtedly played a major role in that decision. Independent studies found that the V-tail Bonanza had a fatal in-flight failure rate 24 times higher than the straight-tail version; a possible cause is the greater stress placed on the V-tail aircraft's tail and fuselage during pitch and yaw maneuvers than on the straight-tail version.
Olive Ann Beech, Walter's wife, became president and CEO of Beech Aircraft following her husband's unexpected death from a heart attack on November 29, 1950, and remained at the company's helm until 1968, when she assumed the role of chairman at age 65. Beech Aircraft ceased to exist as an independent entity when it accepted a takeover bid from Raytheon Corporation on October 1, 1979. Olive Ann Beech, arguably the most successful female executive in aviation history, died on July 6, 1993, at the age of 89.
In May 1996, the Bonanza achieved another milestone when the 3,000th straight-tailed Model 36 rolled off the production line, and 1997 marked the 50th anniversary of continuous Bonanza production. The Bonanza 35/36 holds the distinction of one of the most successful aircraft in aviation history, with more than 17,000 built, as well as one of the most prolific, remaining in continuous production from 1947 to this day.
Pilot Roger Arthur Peters, 21 years old, was regularly employed by Dwyer Flying Service as a commercial pilot and flight instructor, and had been with them about one year. He had been flying since October of 1954, and had accumulated 711 flying hours, of which 128 were in Bonanza aircraft. Almost all of the Bonanza time was acquired during charter flights. He had approximately 52 hours of dual instrument training and had passed his instrument written examination. He failed an instrument flight check on March 21, 1958, nine months prior to the accident. His last CAA second-class physical examination was taken March 29, 1958. A hearing deficiency of his right Ear was found and because of this he was given a flight test. A waiver noting this hearing deficiency was issued November 29, 1958. According to his associates, he was a young married man who built his life around flying. When his instrument training was taken, several aircraft were used and these were all equipped with the conventional type artificial horizon and none with the Sperry Attitude Gyro such as was installed in Bonanza N3794N. These two instruments differ greatly in their pictorial display.
The conventional artificial horizon provides a direct reading indication of the bank and pitch attitude of the aircraft which is accurately indicated by a miniature aircraft pictorially displayed against a horizon bar and as if observed from the rear. The Sperry F3 gyro also provides a direct reading indication of the bank and pitch attitude of the aircraft, but its pictorial presentation is achieved by using a stabilized sphere whose free-floating movements behind a miniature aircraft presents pitch information with a sensing exactly opposite from that depicted by the conventional artificial horizon.
The surface weather chart for 0000 February 3, 1959, showed a cold front extending from the northwestern corner of Minnesota through central Nebraska with a secondary cold front through North Dakota. Widespread snow shower activity was indicated in advance of these fronts. Temperatures along the airway route form Mason City to Fargo were below freezing at all levels with an inversion between 3,000 and 4,000 feet and abundant moisture present at all levels through 12,000 feet. The temperature and moisture content was such that moderate to heavy icing and precipitation existed in the clouds along the route. Winds aloft along the route at altitudes below 10,000 feet were reported to be 30 to 50 knots from southwesterly direction, with the he strongest winds indicated to be closest to the cold front.
A flash advisory issued by the U.S. Weather Bureau at Minneapolis at 2335 on February 2 contained the following information: "Flash Advisory No. 5 A band of snow about 100 miles wide at 2335 from extreme northwestern Minnesota, northern North Dakota through Bismarck and south-southwestward through Black Hills of South Dakota with visibility generally below 2 miles in snow. This area or band moving southeastward about 25 knots. cold front at 2335 from vicinity Winnipeg through Minot, Williston, moving southeastward 25 to 30 knots with surface winds following front north-northwest with 25 to gusts of 45. Valid until 0335." Another advisory issued by the U. S. Weather Bureau at Kansas City, Missouri at 0015 on February 3 was: "Flash Advisory No. 1. Over eastern half of Kansas ceilings are locally below one thousand feet, visibilities locally 2 miles or less in freezing drizzle, light snow and fog. Moderate to locally heavy icing areas of freezing drizzle and locally moderate icing in clouds below 10,000 feet over eastern portion Nebraska, Kansas, northwest Missouri and most of Iowa. Valid until 0515." Neither communicator could recall having drawn these flash advisories to the attention of Pilot Peterson. Mr. Dwyer said that when he accompanied pilot Peterson to ATCS, no information was given them indicating instrument flying weather would be encountered along the route.
There is no evidence to indicate that very important flash advisories regarding adverse weather conditions were drawn to the attention of the pilot. On the contrary, there is evidence that the weather briefing consisted solely of the reading of current weather at en route terminal and terminal forecasts for the destination. Failure of the communicators to draw these advisories to the attention of the pilot and to emphasize their importance could readily lead the pilot to underestimate the severity of the weather situation.
It must be pointed out that the communicators' responsibility with respect to furnishing weather information to pilots is to give them all the available information, to interpret this data if requested, but not to advise in any manner. Also, the pilot and the operator in this case had a definite responsibility to request and obtain all of the available information and to interpret it correctly.
Mr. Dwyer said that he had confidence in Peterson and relied entirely on his operational judgment with respect to the planning and conduct of the flight.
At Mason City, at the time of takeoff, the barometer was falling, the ceiling and visibility were lowering, light snow had begun to fall, and the surface winds and winds aloft were so high one could reasonably have expected to encounter adverse weather during the estimated two-hour flight.
It was already snowing at Minneapolis, and the general forecast for the area along the intended route indicated deteriorating weather conditions. Considering all of these facts and the fact that the company was certificated to fly in accordance with visual flight rules only, both day and night, together with the pilot's unproved ability to fly by instrument, the decision to go seems most imprudent.
It is believed that shortly after takeoff pilot Peterson entered an area of complete darkness and one in which there was no definite horizon; that the snow conditions and the lack of horizon required him to rely solely on flight instruments for aircraft attitude and orientation.
The high gusty winds and the attendant turbulence which existed this night would have caused the rate of climb indicator and the turn and bank indicator to fluctuate to such an extent that an interpretation of these instruments so far as attitude control is concerned would have been difficult to a pilot as inexperienced as Peterson. The airspeed and altimeter alone would not have provided him with sufficient reference to maintain control of the pitch attitude. With his limited experience the pilot would tend to rely on the attitude gyro which is relatively stable under these conditions.
Service experience with the use of the attitude gyro has clearly indicated confusion among pilots during the transition period or when alternating between conventional and attitude gyros. Since Peterson had received his instrument training in aircraft equipped with the conventional type artificial horizon, and since this instrument and the attitude gyro are opposite in their pictorial display of the pitch attitude, it is probably that the reverse sensing would at times produce reverse control action. This is especially true of instrument flight conditions requiring a high degree of concentration or requiring multiple function, as would be the case when flying instrument conditions in turbulence without a copilot. The directional gyro was found caged and it is possible that it was never used during the short flight. However, this evidence is not conclusive. If the directional gyro were caged throughout the flight this could only have added to the pilot's confusion.
At night, with an overcast sky, snow falling, no definite horizon, and a proposed flight over a sparsely settled area with an absence of ground lights, a requirement for control of the aircraft solely by reference to flight instruments can be predicated with virtual certainty.
The Board concludes that pilot Peterson, when a short distance from the airport, was confronted with this situation. Because of fluctuation of the rate instruments caused by gusty winds he would have been forced to concentrate and rely greatly on the attitude gyro, an instrument with which he was not completely familiar. The pitch display of this instrument is the reverse of the instrument he was accustomed to; therefore, he could have become confused and thought that he was making a climbing turn when in reality he was making a descending turn. The fact that the aircraft struck the ground in a steep turn but with the nose lowered only slightly, indicates that some control was being effected at the time. The weather briefing supplied to the pilot was seriously inadequate in that it failed to even mention adverse flying conditions which should have been highlighted.
The Board determines that the probably 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.
By the Civil Aeronautics Board: James R. Dupree/ Chan Gurney/Harmar D. Denny/ G. Joseph Minetti/ Louis J. Hector
Buddy Holly's Death Certificate
From the Coroner's Report dated Feb. 4, 1959
The body of Charles H. Holley was clothed in an outer jacket of yellow leather-like material in which 4 seams in the back were split almost full length. The skull was split medially in the forehead and this extended into the vertex region. Approximately half the brain tissue was absent. There was bleeding from both ears, and the face showed multiple lacerations. The consistency of the chest was soft due to extensive crushing injury to the bony structure. The left forearm was factured 1/3 the way up from the wrist and the right elbow was fractured. Both thighs and legs showed multiple factures. There was a small laceration of the scrotum.
Personal effects found with the body are listed on a separate sheet in this report;
Personal effects, Charles Holley:
Cash $193.00 less $11.65 coroner's fees - $181.35
2 cuff links; silver 1/2 in. balls having jeweled band
Top portion of ball point pen.
Fingerprints were taken of the deceased for purposes of identification.
Ralph E. Smiley, MD; Acting coroner
A Pilot’s Opinion; (non-instrument rated - experienced in study of onset vertigo):
I will start with the obvious. The pilot Roger Peterson crashed his airplane because he couldn’t see the ground. No pilot is going to fly into the ground if he can see it. This means that visibility either declined to the extent that his visual range, or the outside horizon, became near zero, or that the pilot was glued to his instruments after encountering instrument flight conditions resulting in on-set vertigo. All pilots are required to have at least 3 hours instrument flight training to receive a non-instrument standard flying license. A non-instrument rated pilot, like Roger Peterson and myself, are limited to flying visual flight rules (VFR) conditions only. A non-instrument rated pilot like Roger Peterson and myself are never licensed to enter a potential instrument flight rules (IFR) condition - and especially are not to enter a known IFR situation (where a reliance on flight instruments becomes essential). For the layperson’s benefit, there is a keen difference between aircraft performance instruments and flight instruments. Most modern aircraft like Roger Peterson’s Bonanza are minimally equipped with performance instruments including a ‘sensitive’ altimeter (an altimeter that works using barometric pressure to sustain the most accurate possible reading), an airspeed indicator, oil pressure gauge, cylinder head temperature gauge, magneto switch, throttle, carburetor heat control, fuel selector valve, basic radio with direction locator (VOR), a turn skid measuring device and/or possibly a turn and bank indicator. In the case of a high performance airplane - a propeller pitch control is included as well. Every pilot monitors all of these performance instruments and controls while flying.
A pilot flying VFR relies on seeing a “real” horizon outside the cockpit windshield when in the air. Even at night the VFR pilot relies on seeing ground lights and images that form and make-up the real horizon in order to maintain his equilibrium. When weather conditions are severe and require IFR flying - an instrument rated pilot must fly an airplane that is specially equipped and certified for IFR flying.
An IFR flight requires filing a flight plan before take off and also requires that separation (from other aircraft) be monitored by air traffic control. The flight is conducted under instrument flight rules that require clearances and steering vectors with altitude assignments established by air traffic control. For this mission, in the certified airplane, the flying instruments are grouped in routine and similar manner for ease of use to maintain flight control. The flying instruments are comprised of some of the usual instruments named above, but also include all of the following grouped together for easy and constant scanning. In addition to the sensitive altimeter, airspeed indicator and turn and bank indicator you will find the most important instrument; the ‘artificial horizon’, in addition to a vertical speed indicator (also known as a ‘rate of climb’) and a directional gyro (in the case of Roger Peterson he had all of these including the new Sperry model 'F-3 attitude gyro' (artificial horizon).
These six instruments, at least the first five, are always found in an instrument equipped airplane for IFR flying. These instruments are all necessary to prevent ‘on-set’ and ‘actual’ vertigo; also known as ‘spatial disorientation’.
Vertigo and spatial disorientation are conditions that occur when visual reference to the real horizon is lost. Without “eyes on” references the inner ear deceives the brain to think one attitude is present when actually something else altogether may be occurring. When the eye cannot identify an outside horizon and the mind is left alone to interpret what the inner ear is telling it - one can no longer rely on their sense of balance to know whether they are up, down, sideways or even upside down. Untold numbers of crashes have resulted from this condition, even in the case of IFR rated pilots. Crashes especially occur when VFR pilots find themselves flying into an IFR situation without the necessary instrument monitoring skills, practice and license.
The term ‘Vertigo’ used in aviation refers to the general feeling that one's flight path isn't correct in some way. Flying an uncoordinated turn produces this effect - as do excessive head turning movements during a turn in flight. Vertigo is often subtle in onset, yet it is the most disabling and dangerous form of disorientation. One purpose for instrument training and maintaining instrument proficiency is to prevent a pilot from being misled by several types of hazardous illusions that are peculiar to having ‘vertigo’ in flight. Vertigo causes a false impression when information provided by the inner ear is misinterpreted in flight by various motions and visual cues usually encountered under adverse weather conditions and at night. Some of these illusions may lead to spatial disorientation or the inability to determine accurately the attitude or motion of the aircraft in relation to the earth's surface.
Vertigo as a result of continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions is near the top of the causes listed in annual statistics on fatal aircraft accidents. When loss of outside visual reference occurs vertigo may quickly spring from motions of the aircraft alone or by combinations of aircraft, head and/or body movements – one or altogether. For instance; if the aircraft leans in a banked attitude to the left - any abrupt correction can set the fluid of the inner ear in motion to create the illusion of a banked attitude to the right. The disoriented pilot may make the error of rolling the aircraft back to the left when a roll to the right is required. In level flight the pilot may feel compelled to lean the airplane to the left or right until that illusion subsides. An abrupt head movement made during a prolonged constant-rate turn may cause the strong illusion of turning or accelerating, in an entirely different axis. The disoriented pilot may maneuver the aircraft into a dangerous attitude in an attempt to correct the perceived illusory movement. A graveyard spiral often results when slight initial inadvertent turning causes an illusion of being in a descent with the wings level. The disoriented pilot may pull back on the controls, tightening the spiral and increasing the loss of altitude. In an abrupt change from climb to straight-and-level flight an illusion of tumbling backwards may result. The disoriented pilot may push the aircraft abruptly into a nose-low attitude intensifying the problem. An abrupt upward vertical acceleration such as caused by an updraft may create the illusion of being in a climb. The disoriented pilot may push the aircraft into a nose low attitude when he is already flying level. A downdraft has the opposite effect. The disoriented pilot may pull the aircraft into a nose-up attitude. When flying in the dark a stationary light may appear to move when stared at for many seconds. The disoriented pilot could lose control of the aircraft in attempting to align it in keeping with false illusions. These sensations cannot be completely prevented but that they can be ignored or sufficiently suppressed by pilots' when they are properly trained to develop an "absolute" reliance upon their flight instruments.
Not only must the pilot be able to read and rely on his/her flight instruments, he or she must be able to maintain flight within normal flight parameters when using the flight instruments. This involves the ability to keep the airplane steady, straight, level and centered based on the readings of the flight instruments - notwithstanding what your inner ear is telling you. You must be trained to totally ignore your balance perceptions.
You may be wondering what happens if the instruments fail. Most modern aircraft have back-up systems to help assure this does not happen. Practice and experience in instrument flying are necessary to aid pilots in discounting or overcoming false sensations. The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-3, chapter 10, states the following about night flying and its affect on spatial orientation:
"Night flying requires that pilots be aware of, and operate within, their abilities and limitations. Although careful planning of any flight is essential, night flying demands more attention to the details of preflight preparation and planning. Preparation for a night flight should include a thorough review of the available weather reports and forecasts with particular attention given to temperature/dewpoint spread. A narrow temperature/dewpoint spread may indicate the possibility of ground fog. Emphasis should also be placed on wind direction and speed, since its effect on the airplane cannot be as easily detected at night as during the day. Night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree in controlling the airplane. Under no circumstances should a VFR night-flight be made during poor or marginal weather conditions unless both the pilot and aircraft are certificated and equipped for flight under IFR. Crossing large bodies of water at night in single-engine airplanes could be potentially hazardous, not only from the standpoint of landing (ditching) in the water, but also because with little or no lighting the horizon blends with the water, in which case, depth perception and orientation become difficult. During poor visibility conditions over water, the horizon will become obscure, and may result in a loss of orientation. Even on clear nights, the stars may be reflected on the water surface, which could appear as a continuous array of lights, thus making the horizon difficult to identify."
Roger Peterson did not crash owing to worsening weather conditions up ahead. The weather at his airport was technically ‘flyable’ by VFR reference standards by a VFR rated pilot…. that is… if a real horizon could be determined and kept in sight. The local weather reports indicated that visibility was several miles and ceilings were over 2,000 feet. What Roger Peterson encountered was a very dark sky exacerbated by ‘white-out’ conditions caused by snow. Visibility may have been two miles, but everything outside the airplane looked the same. No horizon was evident once he left the region of the airport. Seeing while driving a car at high speed through dark and snow is no easy matter. Try flying through the same dark and snowing conditions without headlights at over 160 mph.
According to AC 60-4A, "Pilot's Spatial Disorientation," tests conducted with qualified instrument pilots indicated that it can take as long as 35 seconds to establish full control by instruments after a loss of visual reference of the earth's surface. AC 60-4A further states that surface references and the natural horizon may become obscured even though visibility may be above VFR minimums and that an inability to perceive the natural horizon or surface references is common during flights over water, at night, in sparsely populated areas, and in low-visibility conditions.
A study some years ago showed that an average pilot, untrained in instrument flying, has about 3 minutes to live after entering cloud (assuming not enough clear sky below the cloud to recover.) To pass a private pilot check ride one must be able to demonstrate to the examiner that you can maintain flight without seeing a horizon for at least 45 minutes. Roger Peterson had done this and so has every other licensed private pilot.
Private non instrument rated pilots take a mandate 3 hour course in instrument training for their VFR license. However, Roger Peterson had over 50 hours of training. He had already passed part of his instrument rating requirements (although he did not obtain a full IFR endorsement on his license prior to the time of the crash).
Even after demonstrating a minimal capability of controlling an airplane for 45 minutes without seeing a horizon I once took off in my airplane on a beautifully clear - but very dark night. There was zero wind that night; the weather was clear and calm. However I was unable to see enough lights out the airplanes windshield to determine the real horizon. I instantly became disoriented only moments after departing the runway. Not yet 200 feet in the air I quickly transitioned to my turn and bank indicator and altimeter, turned slightly left toward town and picked up the lights just in time to avoid total loss of control. I had gotten an extreme case of vertigo in less than one minute and barely escaped to tell this story. Had those lights not have been there once I managed that turn I certainly could have crashed.
That is what happened to Roger Peterson by my assessment. His new Sperry model 'F-3 attitude gyro' (artificial horizon) had little to do with his crash since the artificial gyro horizon is never used alone. It is the primary instrument to be sure, but it is only one of five or six flying instruments that must be scanned during instrument flight; of which Peterson had over 50 hours experience doing.
Peterson was only in the air for 5 minutes. He simply could not see a defined horizon, quickly became disoriented as I did and then lost the battle in watching his instruments without proper practice and experience. His passengers may have initially distracted him, or this may have happened without distraction at all.
One must try to imagine what was happening inside that airplane. While the aircraft was being taxied to the end of the runway for take off, Peterson called ATCS and asked for the latest local and en route weather. This was given him as not having changed materially en route; however, the local weather was now reported as: Precipitation ceiling 3,000 feet, sky obscured; visibility 6 miles; light snow; wind south 20 knots, gusts to 30 knots; altimeter setting 29.85 inches; (the latter being the barometric pressure which had now dropped twice since the last two reports). Any VFR pilot would have been alarmed at this rapid and drastic weather deterioration just prior to take off, especially coupled with the severe gusts being reported (see FAA warnings above).
Compounding the problem was that even more severe weather conditions were occurring to which Peterson was never made aware. However, the weather reports he actually received were ominous enough to warrant cancelling the flight.
But the plane is now being taxied and turned into take-off position. Twenty-one year old Peterson has been advised of the worsening weather. But, his famous passengers are already on board for the flight. They are looking to his expertise and experience to get them safely to their intended destination - ahead of their tour bus. There was likely some fun hearted nervous banter going on between these friendly passengers as Peterson focused on the flight and taxied the airplane into takeoff position.
Peterson may or may not have been in awe of these famous rock and roll entertainers, but he likely did not want to appear incapable of doing his job. He might have said; ”Hey you guys… the weather is reporting much worse now, I’ve decided that we need to go back to the terminal and wait this out.”
However, if he had turned back - there would be no way to prove that he was saving their lives. Mr. Dwyer, his boss - was right there waiting and watching. Dwyer may have had to refund the fee paid by the musicians if Peterson taxied back.
It was midnight, the end of a long day for Dwyer and Peterson. It was nearly one in the morning. But here was a chance for Peterson to prove himself worthy of his hire; to Dwyer and this famous group. That is a lot of pressure for a young pilot, for any pilot. Can you imagine Peterson admitting that he was not ready, willing or properly rated to fly into that risky night sky under the circumstances? But hindsight indicates that he surely should have cancelled that flight. He was pilot in command and had the authority to cancel. If necessary he could have quit his job and gone home to his wife. Instead, Peterson chose to muster up his grit, stamina, determination and internal fortitude. Drawing on all of his skill and experience he convinced himself not to make the wise decision. He instead chose to continue in what he had to perceive as being a marginal situation for VFR flying.
Peterson had just enough experience as a pilot to get himself into this kind of trouble. A newer, less experienced pilot would have been afraid to fly that night. However, Peterson was well ahead of the average airman as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. Peterson had flown for five years. He had been flying since he was 16 years old. He had accumulated over seven hundred flight hours in that time; a significant amount of flying. Peterson accumulated many of those hours professionally - making flights in a high performance airplane like the Bonanza. Peterson even became a flight instructor in the process. One-hundred and twenty-eight of those hours were in Bonanza aircraft, most likely the very aircraft Peterson was flying that night. Almost all of Peterson’s Bonanza flight time and experience was acquired carrying passengers on charter flights day or night.
Peterson had approximately 52 hours of dual instrument training and had passed his instrument written examination. He failed the instrument flight check on the first try on March 21, 1958, nine months prior to the accident. However, many pilots fail this exam on the first try. It is a tough exam. Even the much simpler private pilot written examination is failed by around 65% of pilots on their first try. You can fail the instrument flying exam for missing approach procedures or some other text book protocol… failing does not necessarily indicate that you cannot control the airplane in IFR flying weather. 52 hours of dual instrument training is substantial and nothing to sneeze at.
With all of this experience Peterson must have believed that he could handle the situation - at least to the extent that he likely did not want to chicken out in front of his paying passengers and boss. Peterson may have decided that he could make a gallant attempt; check things out from the air, and then beat a hasty retreat and land if things looked terrible after take off. There is no way that Peterson would have expected to become spatially disoriented in just five minutes of take-off with miles of reported visibility.
In deciding to go, Peterson made a good take-off and climbed without difficulty to an altitude of 800 feet according to his boss. Peterson flew good turn-out procedures and decided to depart the airport pattern by turning onto the heading of his destination. Mr. Dwyer witnessed this from the airport tower. Peterson had set all of his radio gear on the correct frequencies and course headings (see accident investigation).
I suspect that Peterson encountered spatial disorientation nearly right away. As he became slightly disoriented he may have asked his passengers to be quiet for a moment. I suspect that he would have asked them to help him look outside to identify anything on the horizon, perhaps a series of fixed lights somewhere. Car lights, a farm house, anything. If Peterson did not ask for cooperation or assistance the cockpit might have been abuzz with idle banter adding to the confusion; that is at least until everyone realized that something was amiss.
A pilot can often tell when loss of control is beginning. The problem is not recognizing the condition, but in sensing what to do about it. If the pilot lets the plane climb the propeller immediately loads up with force and strains. The engine RPM drops as the prop loads build causing a sense of pressure within the cabin. You are pushed down into the seats slightly as the plane climbs. To compensate, the pilot upon hearing the propeller loading pushes forward on the controls to get the nose back to level flight, but often over controls and drops the nose too far causing an opposite effect. Now the propeller unloads abruptly and over-speeds. The engine’s revolutions rise reaching close to red line. Another flight correction is immediately needed but the inner ear is now totally confused. Without visual outside references the pilot cannot be sure what inputs to make. Often times a slight turn has started and the pilot finds himself in a slight dive, the beginning of a grave yard spiral. The pilot attempts to regain control but often over-controls going from bad to worse as a repetition of events sets in. One moment he is climbing, the next diving, back and forth, and then banking begins. First left and then right. Up and then down. Up and left and then down and right. Up and right, and then down and left. Down and right and more right is added thinking the airplane was flying left. Now the graveyard spiral is assured. The air rushes past the windshield. Whistling is heard. As the airplane builds speed the sounds increase. The wind howls. The airplane soon reaches uncontrollable speeds beyond red line diving limits. At this point some pilots jerk back hard enough on the controls to pull the wings off the airplane. If the wings stay on the diving speed increases as the pilot pulls back tightening the spiral. Airspeed builds as the pilot pulls back harder. The wings separate or the airplane spins into the ground at enormous velocity. Death is instant as the airplane breaks up and buries itself into the earth. I have seen an accident site where the engine and propeller were totally imbedded below ground. The occupants had disintegrated inside the cockpit.
The inexperienced VFR rated pilot will not believe the instruments – choosing instead to believe his senses. After things get even more out of hand the pilot doesn’t trust either. The pilot in desperation strains to see outside - hoping to find a horizon, straining in fear to the point that it is easy to break down and cry in despair. This happened to me on another occasion that I barely escaped and survived.
A review of NTSB accident files will show that this is especially true of high performance Beechcraft airplanes when flown by inexperienced pilots. Many financially well off pilots prematurely purchase Beechcraft airplanes when their means allow the acquisition, but before their flying experience is up to the purchase.
In Peterson’s case his low altitude of only 800 feet kept matters from getting extreme. Peterson’s situation was only just getting out of hand when he impacted the ground during a slight diving turn – the typical and infamous beginning of a graveyard spiral. If Peterson had been at around 3,000 feet his airplane likely would have gone straight in. In the manner in which this crash occurred it is likely that there was no extreme loss of control to overly alarm the passengers. However, Peterson knew what was happening and would have been very concerned if not alarmed that he was about to crash.
The Sperry model 'F-3 attitude gyro' (artificial horizon) was not to blame. Peterson was no flunky or idiot. He was an experienced commercial pilot. If he were using the flight instruments Peterson would have been scanning all five or six of them, not just that new attitude gyro. Assuming that the instruments were all working the vertical speed indicator would tell him immediately if he were ascending or descending. The ‘sensitive’ altimeter would have given Peterson an immediate indication of climbing or diving. The airspeed indicator would have shown Peterson deviations in airspeed as a result of a climb or dive; whether approaching a stall during a climb or an increase in airspeed during a dive. The turn and bank indicator would have indicated even the slightest wing drop in proper format for quick leveling. All of these flight instruments together tell the story. However, a pilot must be sufficiently trained and practiced to read all of these instrument inputs rapidly in IFR flying conditions in order to discount or overcome all false sensations to the extent necessary to maintain straight and level flight. A pilot could technically throw the Sperry model 'F-3 attitude gyro' out the window and still possess enough flying instruments to maintain straight and level flight given enough practice and experience to do the job. I did not have an attitude gyro in my Citabria on that fateful night ‘take-off’ that nearly got me. I used my turn and bank indicator and my vertical speed indicator (VSI) along with my altimeter for reference and to assist me. Without those few instruments I do not think I would be here to write this.
Peterson would not likely have attempted to take off without command of his new Sperry model 'F-3 attitude gyro' (artificial horizon) in the first place; notwithstanding it working backwards to the gyros he had basically trained on. This is not a matter of not understanding the use of the instruments. It is a matter of not being able to overcome vertigo sufficiently to keep up with the instruments; or to believe in those instruments. It all happens very quickly.
Below is an example of what happened to a licensed instrument rated pilot that crashed killing all onboard his airplane when he became disoriented while landing. This pilot had the proper instrument ratings, instruments, airplane and license. But he did not have the total flying time to equal Peterson’s flight time. This pilot happened to also be flying a Beechcraft Bonanza similar to the one that Peterson was flying that night. Here is the actual (albeit ‘abridged and annotated’ for the layperson) report of radio conversations between this IFR rated pilot and the control tower - just before he crashed his Beechcraft airplane killing all on board. Remember... this was a properly trained and licensed pilot that died from vertigo in the same manner as Peterson and his famous passengers not withstanding having the proper credentials:
On December 22, 2006, about 2136 eastern standard time a Beech A36, (registration number) N3704B, piloted by an instrument rated private pilot, was destroyed on impact with trees and terrain while being vectored (steered by the tower) on a missed approach north of the Lovell Field Airport (CHA), near Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Note: A missed approach is IFR jargon meaning that the pilot could not fully adjust his airplane to fulfill all requisites necessary to complete instrument steering vectors and glide patterns necessary to align with the runway – or in other cases cannot break through the murk in time to see the runway).
The personal flight was operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. An instrument flight plan was on file and was activated (filing that flight plan put the pilot under the authority of Air Traffic Control for the duration of that flight mandating that he follow instrument flight rules – (IFR)). Night visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident (meaning that visual conditions were satisfactory to fly non-IFR in general). The pilot and three passengers sustained fatal injuries in the crash. The flight originated from the Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV), near Gainesville, Florida, about 1850.
A transcript of conversations on a Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approach control frequency for CHA, in part, stated:
Various parties making transmissions (Abbreviations):
1) Zero four bravo; Bonanza N3704B; (November 3704 Bravo) the accident airplane
2) East ARE - CHA – Tower Approach Control at Position 002
3) Continental Express BTA8133 – A Continental Express Flight; Bravo Tango Alpha 8133
4) CHA Approach Control at Position 002
5) East CPC1 - Relieving Controller
6) N609KG - November 609 Kilo Golf (another airplane joining the radio transmissions)
7) UNK - Unknown
2108:38 N3704B - Chattanooga Bonanza three seven zero four bravo is with
you level six thousand
2108:42 ARE - Bonanza three seven zero four bravo Chattanooga approach
Chattanooga altimeter two niner niner five (giving the altimeter setting for the airport)
2108:49 N3704B - Two niner niner five (acknowledgement)
2108:52 ARE – Roger (acknowledgement)
2108:55 N3704B - Let me know when I can start down - zero four bravo (call sign)
2108:58 ARE - November zero four bravo expect lower in about three miles
you're not quite in my airspace
2110:16 ARE - November zero four bravo; descend at pilot's discretion - maintain four thousand (feet altitude)
21210:20 N3704B - Alright ah; zero four bravo down to four thousand (acknowledgement)
2117:16 ARE - November zero four bravo; descend at pilot's discretion - maintain three thousand (re-assignment authorizing the pilot to come down but then to maintain this lower 3,000’ altitude)
2117:21 N3704B – Alright; down to three thousand; zero four bravo (acknowledgement)
Nine seconds later:
2117:30 N3704B - Ah Chattanooga; confirm ah; ILS [instrument landing system] two zero
2117:34 ARE - November zero four bravo; affirmative (Yes)
Ten seconds later:
2117:44 ARE - November zero four bravo - did you copy?
2117:47 N3704B – Yeah, affirmative; ah - ILS two zero zero - four bravo (acknowledgement)
2121:23 ARE - November zero four bravo; turn right heading zero two zero - vector to final approach course.
2121:27 N3704B - (unintelligible) right to zero two zero for vectors;
zero four bravo (acknowledgement)
Thirty-six seconds later:
2122:03 ARE - November zero four bravo; maintain three thousand - verify at three thousand
2122:08 N3704B – (responding) ah; negative - I was descending there – sorry!
2122:10 ARE - November zero four bravo; climb and maintain three thousand.
2122:14 N3704B – Alright; up to three (unintelligible)
2122:21 ARE - November zero four bravo, say altitude.
2122:24 N3704B - Three thousand zero; four bravo (acknowledgement of compliance)
2122:26 ARE – Roger (tower’s acknowledgement)
Note: 45 seconds elapse (tower - using radar altimeter notices four bravo off altitude again):
2123:11 ARE – (Questioning) November zero four bravo, say altitude?
Thirty-six seconds pass (tower repeats):
2123:21 ARE - November zero four bravo say altitude.
Note: This lack of timely response indicates that the Bonanza pilot has his hands full with something and is not maintaining or acknowledging flight instructions that are necessary for proper spacing and separation from other aircraft in the region. Notice the next response:
2123:23 N3704B - (unintelligible) “Little disorientated…”
2123:25 ARE - November zero four bravo are you able to climb to three thousand?
2123:28 N3704B – Yeah, I'm getting back to three thousand…. just a little disorientated here.
2123:31 ARE - November zero four bravo; Do you need any assistance?
2123:35 N3704B - (unintelligible) Ah, I think I got it back under control…
2123:39 ARE - November zero four bravo; You're not experiencing any icing or anything?
2123:42 N3704B – Ah…. negative
2123:48 UNK (unintelligible)
2123:57 ARE - November zero four bravo; Do you have the aircraft under control?
2124:01 N3704B – Ah… yeah…., yeah… I got it under control…
2124:04 ARE - November zero four bravo; Are you on level flight?
2124:09 N3704B – Yeah…. yeah… I'm level.
2124:12 ARE - November zero four bravo - Roger - When able say heading.
2124:17 N3704B – OK, I'm… ah… on a north heading.
[Note: This is not a normal response…. The tower usually expects to hear a heading stated in compass degrees].
2124:20 ARE - November zero four bravo – Roger…. continue current heading… just maintain three thousand.
2124:25 N3704B - North and… ah… three thousand. Zero four bravo… (acknowledgement)
2124:52 ARE - November zero four bravo; Fly heading zero two zero (degrees)
2124:57 N3704B – Alright, turning to zero two zero. Zero four bravo … (acknowledgement)
2125:09 ARE – And, November zero four bravo… you're not having any trouble with the aircraft are you?
2125:12 N3704B – No, no, no… I just got a little disorientated there.
[Note: The pilot seems to be feeling a little better now and that he has regained his composure for watching his instruments. The weather at the assigned altitude was an IFR layer of murk that prevented the pilot seeing a real horizon outside the wind shield of the aircraft… all to be expected under IFR flying conditions and flight plans.]
2125:16 ARE – Roger… it's ah…. yourself… is… disorientated?... Not the, not trouble with the plane… correct? (Tower asking pilot whether anything is wrong with his airplane… or was the problem of disorientation pilot related only)?
2125:20 N3704B…. Correct. (Pilot indicating the earlier vertigo was related to the pilot only).
2125:21 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger… er… you think you'll be able to land the plane? Or do you need to fly around a little bit and clear your head?
2125:27 N3704B – Ah…. let me just clear my head a little bit here.
2125:30 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger…. continue on the zero two zero heading and maintain three thousand…. or would you like to climb back up?
[Note: The Tower clearly understands that the pilot’s continuing into the landing hold pattern may already be, or at least may become a problem… and offers to vector the pilot up to a new assigned altitude; over the scud - to a position where the pilot can see outside of the airplane to get off watching his flight instruments in order to clear his head.]
2125:36 N3704B - I'm gonna try an maintain three thousand on a zero two zero heading. Zero… four bravo (acknowledgement).
[Note: The pilot believes that he is now OK. He elects to proceed with IFR flight instructions and vectors to a landing… with the full knowledge that IFR flying may restrict immediate descent and landing order.]
2125:41 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger… maintain block altitude three thousand to four thousand. [Note: This assignment gives the pilot some leeway as long as he can stay between 3,000 and 4,000 feet is OK but the tower does not want him to descent below 3,000 feet yet.]
2125:46 N3704B – Alright… zero four bravo…. three thousand (acknowledgement).
2126:04 ARE - November zero four bravo; Are you in the clouds or are you ah… VMC?
[VMC means visual meteorological conditions…. the tower is asking the pilot if he is flying instruments.]
2126:08 N3704B - I'm ah full IMC here. [IMC means instrument meteorological conditions].
2126:11 ARE - November zero four bravo; I'm sorry… VMC or IMC?
2126:14 N3704B – IMC…; zero four bravo (acknowledgement).
2126:15 ARE - November zero four bravo… Roger (acknowledgement).
Ten seconds later:
2126:25 ARE - November zero four bravo; Would you like to ah… climb up and ah… try to get ah… VMC… or do you wanna stay in that alt…. that altitude?
2126:33 N3704B - I think I'm OK…. zero two zero on the heading…. and I'm at thirty three hundred… I'll go down to three thousand…
[Note: Here again the pilot reassures the tower that he thinks he is now OK. The pilot believes that he has regained his orientation sufficiently to proceed to a landing. The pilot obviously has the airplane under control, or thinks that he is flying perfectly straight and level, on course and assigned altitude. However, it could be that the pilot; thinking he can handle IFR flying now; hates to have to go back up and then back down through this stuff all over again. It has been 3 minutes and 10 seconds since the pilot first reported being a “little disorientated”.]
7 seconds later:
2126:40 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger (acknowledging the Bonanza pilot).
3 seconds later:
2126:43 BTA8133 – An…. ah… jet link…. eighty one thirty three (call sign) we… we're [IMC]… we were VMC about ah…. five thousand feet…. ah, ah… probably about five miles south of the field. [Note: This is a commercial jet joining in and trying to assist the pilot and tower in deciding whether he should seek VMC nearby.]
2126:50 ARE – Jet-link eighty one thirty three; Thank you sir.
27 seconds later and 44 seconds since the Bonanza’s last call….
2127:17 ARE - November zero four bravo; Fly heading three six zero. (Slight direction change).
[Note: The tower controller probably should have asked November zero four bravo if he wanted to avail himself of the reported VMC conditions five miles south of the field. The slight re-direction vector by the tower controller has added to the shaky pilot’s mental load… but is part of the responsibility for both pilot and tower.]
2127:20 N3704B – Alright… three six zero on the heading. Zero four bravo… (acknowledging)
2127:37 ARE - And November zero four bravo… Let me know if you start to feel disorientated again.
[This is very professional…. The controller wants to know right away if zero four bravo begins to feel shaky again. Remember, most tower controllers are not pilots. Many have little idea of what vertigo feels like.]
2127:41 N3704B – OK… I think I'm… ah… I think I've got it under control now…. ah… down to three thousand on a… ah… zero, zero, zero heading
[Note: a zero, zero, zero heading is true north].
2127:48 UNK (unintelligible)
2128:33 ARE - November zero four bravo; Turn left heading three, three, zero. (Another course change vector).
2128:38 N3704B - Left to three, three, zero. Zero four bravo (acknowledging)
2129:07 ARE - November zero four bravo; I'm gonna take you out a little bit farther (unintelligible)…. nice slow turn on to the localizer.
2129:12 N3704B – OK… thanks. Zero four bravo (acknowledging).
2130:27 ARE - November zero four bravo; Turn left heading a two, niner, zero (290 heading)
2130:31 N3704B - Left to two, niner, zero. Zero four bravo (acknowledging).
2130:51 ARE - November zero four bravo; Continue left turn heading two seven zero (270 heading…. The tower is vectoring the pilot toward landing).
2130:55 N3704B – Alright… left to two seven zero (acknowledging new heading).
2131:01 ARE - November zero four bravo; The… ah… about fifteen minutes ago the last regional jet inbound broke out about twenty one hundred.
[Note: the tower controller is letting the pilot know to expect to break free of the scud and to see the runway at around 2,100 feet altimeter reading.]
2131:08 N3704B – OK… great. Zero four bravo (acknowledging).
2131:35 ARE - November zero four bravo; Turn left heading ah… two five zero (250 slight NW heading)
2131:39 N3704B – Alright… two five zero. Zero four bravo (acknowledging new heading).
2131:51 ARE - November zero four bravo; Are you still feeling alright?
2131:54 N3704B – Yeah… I'm feeling fine now. (acknowledging)
2131:55 ARE - November zero four bravo; Turn left heading… ah… two three zero (230 slightly more NW heading).
2131:58 N3704B (unintelligible) - two three zero. Zero four bravo (acknowledging new heading).
2132:22 ARE - November zero four bravo; Five miles from hixon – maintain two thousand five hundred until established on the localizer… cleared ILS runway two zero approach.
[Note: This is the latest new altitude assignment and clearing for runway 20 approach.]
2132:31 N3704B - OK, ah…. maintain two thousand ah… five hundred, til established on the localizer… cleared ILS two zero zero. Four bravo (acknowledging new instructions).
2132:44 ARE - And November zero four bravo; Turn right heading ah… two four five… short vector for your turn on. (245 heading is slightly less NW more Northerly heading).
2132:50 N3704B – Alright… two four five; (Four bravo acknowledging new instructions).
2133:19 ARE - And November zero four bravo; Now turn left heading two three zero maintain two thousand five hundred til established. (230 heading is more NW again).
2133:25 N3704B - Two three zero and… ah… two thousand five hundred til established; (Four bravo acknowledging new instructions).
[Note: The terms ‘localizer’ and ‘established’ have to do with the instrument landing system (ILS) lock on that guides aircraft to the runway without visual reference. The pilot is flying the airplane blind in this case and will eventually need to see in order to land (see 2131:01 communication about breaking out @ 2,100 feet). The ILS will get the pilot into proximity with the runway for landing.]
[Note: The following is radio conversations with East CPC1 who will be relieving the controller that has been working N3704Bravo and other flights.]
2133:43 ARE - OK arron… twenty ILS is one five three three… you know are… are… are… ah closed… ah… “notams”… and security hasn't changed. Well you know all that from being a
Supeah… you're…. [Note: A notam is a “Notice to Airmen” notice usually used to relate important advisories such as a closed runway owing to maintenance, etc.]
2133:55 CPC1 (unintelligible)
2133:56 ARE - Got two IFRs… one off Dalton.
2133:59 CPC1 - OK
2134:00 ARE - And one inbound to here… Chitokqua… haven't hed… Chitokqua in a while.
2134:03 CPC1 - Oh yeah
2134:03 ARE - November nine kilo golf is seven thousand… I gave him the dumbb bunni
2134:07 N3704B - Ah Chattanooga… can you give me thee ah… the frequency for the two zero localizer…. I'm not getting it. I may…. (unintelligible) have it dialed in wrong. [The pilot is having difficulty getting the localizer on the radio frequency and is asking for help.]
2134:13 UNK - unintelligible
2134:14 CPC1 - What's the twenty loc?
2134:21 ARE - November zero four bravo… Roger stand by…
2134:30 ARE - November zero four bravo; One zero niner point five (telling the pilot that the frequency is 109.5).
2134:34 N3704B - OK one zero niner point five. (pilot acknowledging)
2134:49 ARE - November zero four bravo; Do you have it now?
2134:51 N3704B – Ah… yeah… it's coming in now. I'm a little left of… ah… right of course.
2134:56 ARE – Yeah… I show you ah… November zero four bravo; Slightly right of course. Are you ah…. able to intercept it?
2135:02 N3704B – Yeah…. I think I'm gonna pick it up… ah… looks like the [glideslopes] starting to come in. [Glideslope refers to the runway approach markers].
2135:05 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger…. check altitude. [The controller is suggesting that the pilot may be slightly off altitude for his glideslope approach.]
2135:08 N3704B – Ah… Roger.
2135:36 ARE - November zero four bravo; I show you slightly left of course… are you able to catch it…. or do you need vectors back out?
2135:42 N3704B – Yeah…. I think I'm gonna catch it… the glideslope’s coming in now.
2135:45 ARE - November zero four bravo; Roger. I show you slightly left of the glideslope ... correction… slightly left of the localizer.
2135:52 N3704B – Alright…. I'm correcting now.
2136:04 ARE - November zero four bravo; Check altitude.
2136:09 N3704B – Yeah… I'm climbing back up.
2136:11 ARE - November zero five four zero four bravo; Radar… er… ah.. approach clearance cancelled… climb and maintain two thousand five hundred. [The controller apparently doesn’t like how the landing is shaping up and is vectoring the pilot away for another try, or in the alternative may have some unstated reason for cancelling the pilot’s approach clearance.]
2136:24 ARE - November zero four bravo; Climb and maintain three thousand… say heading.
2136:31 N3704B – Alright… I, I'm climbing up to two thousand…. ah
That was the last recorded transmission from the flight. A witness, who lived about a quarter of a mile from the accident site, stated:
“At about 9:30 pm I was in my bedroom and I heard an airplane engine rev up real high. I then heard sounds of impacts in the trees behind my house. I then heard my neighbor yell that there was a plane down.”
According to Hamilton County Sheriff's personnel, the airplane wreckage was located about 2145 in a wooded area behind residences about eight nautical miles northeast of CHA by first responders.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate for single-engine land airplanes. He received an instrument rating on September 7, 2005. His logbook showed that he had accumulated 54.1 hours of simulated instrument flight time and 2.8 hours of actual instrument flight time at the time he received the instrument rating.
The pilot's most recent application for a FAA third-class medical certificate was dated December 14, 2004. He reported that he had accumulated 225 hours of total flight time on the application for that medical certificate. He was issued that medical certificate with no limitations.
The last completed page in the pilot's logbook showed that he had accumulated 366 hours of total flight time. That page showed that he had accumulated 29.1 hours of night flight time, 54.1 hours of simulated instrument flight time, and 14.3 hours of actual instrument flight time. He logged 3.9 hours of actual instrument flight time and four instrument approaches in the six month time period prior to the accident; and he logged 5.6 hours of actual instrument flight time and three instrument approaches in the six months prior to that time period. The pilot's logbook did not contain an instrument competency check.
N3704B, a 1980-model Beech A36, serial number E-1753, was a low wing, single-engine, six-place airplane, which had retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was equipped with a fuel-injected, air-cooled six-cylinder, horizontally-opposed Continental IO-550-BB (15) engine, serial number 573417, which was rated at 285 horsepower. A Hartzell, 3-bladed, all-metal, constant-speed propeller was installed. The airplane was equipped with an autopilot. His last CAA second-class physical examination was taken March 29, 1958.
From the above account you can see how easily a pilot can suddenly lose his equilibrium and spacial orientation during flight. This pilot had all the correct ratings, was current and practiced in IFR procedures, but not to the extent necessary to safely fly this approach without crashing. The crash would not have occurred had it been VFR weather conditions. This crash was purely related to the lack of outside visual references as encountered during IMC weather conditions. The pilot had nearly 400 hours less experience than Buddy Holly’s pilot and was flying a very similar airplane. The pilot and three passengers perished in this crash. The Beechcraft Bonanza airplane in this latter accident was newer, sleeker, more powerful, faster and a little more difficult to manage than the airplane flown by Peterson in the Buddy Holly crash.
The following are tidbits taken from various websites, newspaper articles and other sources of information concerning the tragic crash that took the lives of Peterson and the three famous entertainers. I do not necessarily agree with the contents and cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the information. I especially do not agree with many of the conclusions describing the events of the crash.
Guy Foster (Pilot, Author and Editor)
February 3, 2009 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, and Richie Valens airplane crash. The cause of the crash was determined simply as pilot error. Information online suggests that it was Mr. Carroll Anderson, the manager of the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake, Iowa who made arrangements to charter the airplane for the entertainers. Anderson drove everyone in his car to the airport in nearby Mason City, with his wife and child along for the ride. A few hours earlier, Anderson had spoken to the owner of the plane, Hubert Dwyer, about a possible charter. Dwyer agreed, and then asked pilot Roger Peterson to make the flight. Peterson was only 21 years old. At 7:30 P.M. Roger Peterson started making preparations for the flight. He checked in at the Mason City airport with Dwyer and together they got a weather report through the communicator person in the tower. The report contained information of typically harsh winter weather, but which was flyable.
Unfortunately, the communicator failed to tell the men about a new, much more intense weather advisory that had just been released. A major front was reported moving down from Minneapolis with winds to thirty knots and gusts up to fifty. This is a key factor, since plane owner Dwyer would almost certainly have canceled the charter. Pilot Peterson told Dwyer he would file a flight plan enroute by radio. At around 12:15 a.m. his three passengers showed up in Carroll Anderson's car. The famous coin flip that eliminated Waylon Jennings from the flight actually happened back at the Surf Ballroom, not at the airport. Everyone stowed away their luggage and got aboard. The plane taxied to the end of the runway, took off and headed south, and then turned northwest to get on course for Fargo, North Dakota. Hubert Dwyer walked out onto a platform outside the tower and watched as the plane flew away. He thought it was strange that the plane gained altitude to around 800 feet, and then seemed to descend slowly until its lights disappeared. He said later that because of the light snow and darkness, he couldn't tell if this was an illusion caused by the airplane flying away from him, or if it was really descending. He went back inside the tower and waited for Peterson to contact him by radio with the flight plan. When there was no transmission from the plane, Dwyer told the communicator on duty to call up the flight. The communicator made multiple attempts without result. Only a few miles from the airport, the Bonanza crashed into a stubble corn field and all aboard were killed.
If you've ever been caught driving on a dark road with blowing snow coming straight at your headlights, then you'll know what it was like for pilot Roger Peterson when he reached 800 feet and made his turn. He couldn't see the ground, since there were no lights in that area, and he was in trouble right away.
Relying on an artificial horizon instrument that operated backwards from the usual, he went into an immediate descent without realizing it. When the plane hit the ground only a few miles from the airport, it was descending at 50 feet per second. This means Peterson thought he was CLIMBING, when he was actually descending. When the plane crashed, it was going at full speed and in the middle of a right turn. Peterson would have read this on his instruments as a right ASCENDING turn. One good theory is that they had decided to turn back for the airport due to the weather, and struck the ground instead.
Almost the minute they were airborne, they must have realized they couldn't make it to Fargo, because instead of the relatively normal conditions Peterson was told were aloft, they ran into 30-50 mph winds and snow. It was like being suspended in darkness, with heavy winds buffeting the aircraft, snow rushing straight at the windshield, while roaring along at 160mph.
The plane hit wingtip-first, then bounced, and then rebounded back into the air for a short distance. It then struck again and either slid or tumbled nearly the distance of two football fields, strewing pieces along the way. The pilot was trapped in the wreckage, while Holly, Valens, and Richardson were thrown forcibly from the plane at the very end, just before it came to a stop at a barbed-wire fence. It's likely they hardly felt a thing. It would have been over very quickly.
NEWSPAPER STORY - 3 ROCK 'N' ROLL STARS DIE
Airplane Crashes In Iowa - Iowa Pilot Also Killed; Trio Had Performed At Clear Lake
MASON CITY (AP) - Three of the nation's top rock 'n' roll stars were killed during a light snow when their chartered plane crashed shortly after taking off from the airport here early Tuesday.
The trio, BUDDY HOLLY, 22, of Lubbock, Texas; RITCHIE VALENS, 17, of Los Angeles, and J. P. RICHARDSON, 24, of New Orleans, known professionally as the "Big Bopper", had completed an engagement at the Surf ballroom in nearby Clear Lake a short time before. They were on their way to Fargo, N. D., for an appearance Tuesday night.
The 4-place plane was chartered from the Dwyer Flying Service of Mason City. The pilot was ROGER PETERSON of Clear Lake, who was also killed. Cause of the crash was not immediately determined, although authorities tentatively blamed weather conditions at the time of takeoff.
The 3 rock 'n' roll singers killed in an Iowa plane crash Tuesday were to have appeared at Danceland in Cedar Rapids Friday night. Darlow Olson, ‘Danceland’ manager, said replacement stars will be obtained. The trio was to have appeared in Sioux City Wednesday night and Des Moines Thursday night.
HOLLY, who sang with the Crickets, sailed to Rock 'n' Roll fame with his recording of "Peggy Sue."
The BIG BOPPER gained fame through his recording of "Chantilly Lace" and the more recent "Big Bopper Wedding." VALENS was identified as having one of the current top hits, a recording called "Donna." They had appeared on various television shows and were idols of the teen-age rock 'n' roll set.
A strong southerly wind and light blowing snow filled the air when the plane took off about 1 AM. The Beechcraft Bonanza burned when it crashed into a field on the ALBERT JUHL farm 15 miles northwest of Mason City. Other members of the troupe which appeared at Clear Lake had left after the show by chartered bus for Fargo. The are DION and the Belmonts, FRANKIE SARDO and the Crickets, of which HOLLY was the singing star. HOLLY, VALENS and the "BIG BOPPER" decided to fly in order to arrive ahead of the troupe and make advance preparations. The 4 bodies were badly burned.
Looked For Plane
JERRY DWYER, owner of the flying service, set out to look for the party when no word came back from his pilot. He was delayed several hours in searching for the plane because of early morning fog. Later observers of the wreckage said the plane apparently hit the ground first at the left wingtip, and plowed a furrow about 20 to 25 feet across a stubble field. Then the body of the craft evidently struck the ground, peeled off the surface of the field, and bounced as the left wing came off and remained there.
The plane then struck the ground again about 100 feet farther northwest, and skidded the length of about 2 city blocks before the wreckage piled up against a fence. Three of the bodies were lying on the ground near the wreckage, and one still was inside of what was left of the plane.
The plane was just a jumble of wreckage, with pieces here and there. Along the path of the plane also were scattered a suitcase, a shoe, and other articles.
Two deputy sheriffs and some state highway patrolmen would not permit anyone into the field where the plane wreckage lay for about an hour and a half after word of the crash spread. It took that long to find the county coroner, notify him of the accident, and get him to the scene.
The trip to Fargo was expected to take about 3½ hours.
Both RICHARDSON and VALENS had written some of the tunes they recorded. VALENS started singing while still in high school and composed "Come On, Let's Go" which first established him as a jukebox favorite. He was scheduled to appear on the March 7 Perry Como television program. RICHARDSON started out as a radio station disc jockey. HOLLY began his musical career studying the violin at age 4. He won an amateur contest a year later, but by his high school days had switched to the guitar. His interest in western music won him appearances on several broadcast shows and in 1955 he came to the attention of recording officials. His first click disc was "That'll Be The Day", followed by "Early In The Morning" and "Peggy Sue". Just released was his recording of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore". HOLLY was married 7 months ago. The other two were single.
In Hollywood, trade sources said the combined record sales of the 3 popular singers was in the millions.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette Iowa 1959-02-03
Performing in concert was very profitable, and Buddy Holly needed the money it provided. "The Winter Dance Party Tour" was planned to cover 24 cities in a short 3 week time frame (January 23 - February 15) and Holly would be the biggest headliner. Waylon Jennings, a friend from Lubbock, Texas and Tommy Allsup would go as backup musicians. Ritchie Valens, probably the hottest of the artists at the time, the Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts would round out the list of performers.
The tour bus developed heating problems. It was so cold onboard that reportedly one of the drummers developed frostbite riding in it. When they arrived at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were cold, tired and disgusted. That night at the Surf Ballroom was a success as the fans went wild over the performers, however Buddy Holly had enough of the unheated bus and decided to charter a plane for himself and his guys. At least he could get some laundry done before the next performance!
Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holley (changed to Holly due to a misspelling on a contract) and his band, The Crickets, had a number one hit in 1957 with the tune That'll Be The Day. This success was followed by Peggy Sue and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. By 1959, Holly had decided to move in a new direction. He and the Crickets parted company. Holly married Maria Elena Santiago and moved to New York with the hope of concentrating on song writing and producing.
Jiles P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper to his fans, was a Texas D.J. who found recording success and fame in 1958 with the song Chantilly Lace.
Richie Valenzuela was only 16 years old when Del-Fi record producer, Bob Keane, discovered the Pacoima, California singer. Keane rearranged his name to Ritchie Valens, and in 1958 they recorded Come On, Let's Go. Far more successful was the song Valens wrote for his girlfriend, Donna, and its flip side, La Bamba, a Rock and Roll version of an old Mexican standard. This earned the teenager an appearance on American Bandstand and the prospect of continued popularity.
Dwyer Flying Service got the charter. $36 per person for a flight in a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza. Waylon Jennings gave his seat up to Richardson, who was running a fever and had trouble fitting his stocky frame comfortably into the bus seats. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings for years.
Allsup told Valens, I'll flip you for the remaining seat. On the toss of a coin, Valens won the seat and Allsup the rest of his life. The plane took off a little after 1 A.M. from Clear Lake and never got far from the airport before it crashed, killing all onboard.
A cold N.E wind immediately gave way to a snow which drastically reduced visibility. The ground was already blanketed in white. The pilot may have been inexperienced with the instrumentation.
One wing hit the ground and the small plane corkscrewed over and over. The three young stars were thrown clear of the plane, leaving only pilot Roger Peterson inside.
Over the years there has been much speculation as to whether a shot was fired inside the plane which disabled or killed the pilot. In March of 2007 the body of J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson was exhumed at the request of his son, Jay Richardson. Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, looked at the remains in Beaumont, Texas. A gun that belonged to Buddy Holly was found at the crash site, fueling rumors that the pilot was shot and perhaps Richardson survived the crash and was trying to get help. "I was hoping to put the rumors to rest," Richardson said. Bass took X-rays of the body and found nothing to support those theories. Richardson had "fractures from head to toe. Massive fractures. ... (He) died immediately." Logic suggests that encased in a sea of white snow, with only white below, Peterson became disoriented and just flew the airplane into the ground.
Deciding that the show must go on at the next stop, Moorhead, MN, they looked for local talent to fill in. Just across the state line from Moorhead, in Fargo ND, they found a 15 year old talent named Bobby Vee.
The crash that ended the lives of Holly, Valens and Richardson was the break that began the career of Vee. Tommy Allsup would one day open a club named "The Head's Up Saloon," a tribute to the coin toss that saved his life. Waylon Jennings would become a hugely popular Country singer. Dion di Mucci would enjoy a long lived solo career. Inscribed on Ritchie Valens' grave are the words, "Come On, Let's Go."