The Day the Music Died - Crash Scene

The Day the Music Died - Crash Scene Aviation & Space Exploration Famous Historical Events Famous People Legends and Legendary People American History Disasters

Buddy Holly (22), Ritchie Valens (17) and J.P. ("The Big Bopper") Richardson (28) were touring America, with other "rock-n-roll" entertainers, during the winter of 1959.  They called their show the "Winter Dance Party."

After a performance at the Surf Ballroom, in Clear Lake (Iowa), the group planned to move on to their next stop in Moorhead (Minnesota).  The date was February 3, 1959.

Because their bus had mechanical issues, including an ineffective heating system, Holly and some of his friends decided to fly instead of drive. 

Although the forecast called for worsening weather, there seemed to be no issue as their 1949 Beechcraft Bonanza, Model 35, took-off from Mason City Municipal Airport, heading to Fargo, North Dakota (the closest airport to Moorhead).  

However ... Roger Peterson - an experienced VFR (visual-flight-rules) pilot "who built his life around flying" - was not licensed to fly in instrument conditions and was not properly advised about an expected blizzard.  

Soon after leaving the airport, the plane crashed, killing everyone on board.  Today we would designate this as a CFIT ("Controlled Flight into Terrain") accident.

This photo, taken by investigators from the Civil Aeronautics Board - precursor of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) - shows the ruined plane at the wreck site. 

More pictures, which are part of the official investigation, reveal that all three singers were thrown from the plane. Only the pilot's body was found inside the wreckage.

The Coroner's Report on the Crash - and the four individual death certificates - reveal that all four men died of massive trauma.

Nearly fifty years later, Richardson's body was exhumed.  His remains were remarkably well preserved. 

Dr. Bill Bass' examination of The Big Bopper revealed that the popular singer / songwriter / DJ had about 200 fractures "from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet."

Between them, the three young stars had sold approximately 10 million records in the twelve months before they died.  For more details on their careers, and final days, see The Day the Music Died, by Larry Lehmer (1997).

See, also:

Video Interview - Dr. Bill Bass and the Exhumation of J.P. Richardson

Media Credits

Official photo of the crash scene near Mason City, Iowa - where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson died on February 3, 1959 - from the investigation report assessing probable cause of the crash, online courtesy NTSB.  The plane's pilot, Roger Peterson, also died.


The Coroner's Report on the crash indicates that both the Sheriff (Jerry Allen) and the Coroner (Ralph E. Smiley, M.D.) requested Glen Kellogg (of Clear Lake, Iowa) to take pictures of the crash scene.


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"The Day the Music Died - Crash Scene" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 20, 2020.
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