NTSB considers taking another look at plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson

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(CNN) — It’s the day the music died. In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a small aircraft carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed a few miles from Mason City Municipal Airport, near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Pilot Roger Peterson also died in the crash.

The voice of the hit songs “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day” was silenced forever.

A few months later, the Civil Aeronautics Board blamed the accident primarily on the pilot’s lack of qualification and certification to fly solely by instruments and secondarily on an inadequate weather briefing. (PDF).

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board, the successor to the aeronautics board, may be taking another look.

The NTSB received a letter from aviation enthusiast L.J. Coon, a self-described retired pilot and aircraft dispatcher, asking it to look at other possible contributing factors to the crash. They include the aircraft’s weight and balance calculations (for passengers, baggage and fuel), possible issues with rudder panels and possible carburetor Induction icing, Coon told CNN in an email.

“You have gotten our attention,” the NTSB wrote in February, saying it would examine the information he provided, Coon’s email said.

The NTSB never fully closes a case, but any petition to re-examine a crash needs to show that there is new information suggesting the original probable cause is incorrect, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

The agency has two months to review the petition and decide whether there’s new information that would make it revisit the case.

In 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson were part of the Winter Dance Party, a tour that had started in Milwaukee and traveled to small cities in Minnesota and Iowa.

The musicians had traveled in subfreezing temperatures in unheated buses, and people were getting sick. Holly booked the four-seat aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, where he planned to finally do laundry and rest in advance of the group’s next concert in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.

Country legend Waylon Jennings, then Holly’s bass player, gave up his seat to a sick Richardson. Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64, was haunted by his decision for years to come.

Dion and the Belmonts were also on the tour, but Dion gave up his seat on the plane after hearing the $36 per-person price tag. He was the only headliner not on the plane and the only headliner who didn’t die that night.

The crash has inspired generations of artists. Lou Diamond Phillips played Ritchie Valens (originally Valenzuela) in the 1987 hit movie “La Bamba.” Gary Busey played Holly in the 1978 movie “The Buddy Holly Story.”

Don McLean, who was inspired by Holly’s music, memorialized that day as “The Day the Music Died” in his 1971 song “American Pie.”

1 Comment

  • L J Coon

    Ref: ‘The Mason City Iowa accident 1959’
    The Reported Mason City Airport Weather February-3-1959 was…
    Measured Ceiling 3,000 – Sky Obscured – Visibility 6 miles – Temperature 18 degrees – Altimeter 29.86 – Wind Southwest 20 gust 30
    ” Not A Hollywood Snow Storm “.
    The Owner of N3794N and The FAA certified Tower Operator…Stood on a platform at the base of The Tower and witnessed
    The lights of N3794N “In A Slow Descent” less than 3 miles from The Mason City Airport, to the Northwest Visibility was reported as 6 miles
    Not A Hollywood Snow Storm.
    Remember…The Dwyer Flying Service was only certified by The FAA To fly VFR Chartered Flights ( Day and Night ) in 1959
    So…This Departure / Flight was a VFR night flight with FAA Tower reported VFR weather conditions / 6 miles visibility.
    Pilot Roger Peterson was VFR day and night rated ( 128 hours of flight) in N3794N and he had some Instrument time.
    This was Pilot Roger Peterson’s Home base facility/Airport.
    This was a VFR night flight ( ” Not A Hollywood Snow Storm ” )
    Pilot Roger Peterson…was in VFR night conditions for ‘ This Entire Flight ‘.

    The Flight of N3794N lasted 3.5 minutes from the point of departure, ( 800 AGL, with a 1 minute 6 seconds
    750 foot per minute ‘ Slow Descent ‘ ) coming to a rest at 4.9 miles from The Mason City Airport and 7 miles from
    The community lights of Fertile .
    ( Fertile with 397 people / residences in 1959 Home of the 32nd Governor of Iowa )

    The NTSB Petition includes but not limited to:
    Total Weight and Balance
    Fuel loaded
    Fuel gages
    Fuel amounts at wreckage site
    No mention of fuel period
    No mention of fuel danger for Investigators
    Outside temperature 18 degrees
    Who did the Weight and Balance
    Was the Weight and Balance done with the Late switch of new passengers ‘Valens and Richardson’.
    Who Fueled the aircraft
    Where is The Fuel receipt.
    Who Loaded and secured ‘The Baggage’.
    Location of Right Wing
    Passenger side (right side) Rudder Pedals ( were they removed for this Chartered Flight )
    Aircraft ‘Carburetor Induction Icing’ in 1959
    Did the Civil Aeronautics Board consider ‘Carburetor Induction Icing’ in this 1959 accident.
    How was The Carburetor Heat control/position found

    Addressed in The NTSB Petition but not limited to:
    a.Magneto switches were both in the “off” position.
    b.The attitude gyro indicator was stuck in a manner indicative of a 90-degree angle.
    c.The rate of climb indicator was stuck at 3,000-feet-per-minute descent.
    d.The airspeed indicator needle was stuck between 165-170 mph.
    e.The omni selector was positioned at 114.9, the frequency of the Mason City omni range.
    f.The course selector indicated a 360-degree course.
    “The fact that the aircraft struck the ground in a turn
    but with the nose lowered only slightly, indicates that
    some control was being effected at the time.”

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