Ten Worst Movie and Music Celebrity Airplane Crashes

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Plane crashes have claimed a number of movie and music celebrities through the years. Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, Glenn Miller, Jim Reeves, Audie Murphy, Rick Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd head the tragic list.

It's not a pleasant subject, but airplane crashes have claimed the lives of a number of celebrities through the years. Movie and music personalities have been especially hard hit. Here are ten celebrity plane crashes that rocked the entertainment world.

Patsy Cline, March 5, 1963 - Tennessee Tragedy

Country music singer Patsy Cline (1932-1963) was returning home to Nashville following a benefit concert in Kansas City, Kansas, when her private plane went down in a storm near Camden, Tennessee, on March 5, 1963. Also on board the ill-fated single engine Piper Comanche were the 30-year-old Cline's manager and the plane's pilot Ramsey "Randy" Hughes (1928-1963), along with fellow Grand Ole Opry performers Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas (1913-1963) and Harold "Hawkshaw" Hawkins (1921-1963). Said Civil Defense official Dean Brewer later of the effort to recover the bodies in a heavily wooded area known as Fatty Bottom, "There's not enough to count...They're all in small pieces."

L-r: Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Randy Hughes (Nashville Banner, March 6, 1963)

Buddy Holly, February 3, 1959 - The Day the Music Died

Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holly (1936-1959) was on tour as a featured performer in the Winter Dance Party in early 1959. Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, a private plane was chartered to take Holly and fellow musicians Ritchie Valens (1941-1959) and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (1930-1959) to their next stop on the tour. The single engine Beechcraft Bonanza, piloted by 21-year-old Roger Peterson, crashed in a farmer's field shortly after takeoff on February 3, 1959, killing all on board. The bodies of Holly and Valens rested near the mangled airplane, while Richardson was hurled over a fence and Peterson remained trapped inside. Singer Don McLean later immortalized the tragedy in his 1971 ballad "American Pie," which he called "the day the music died."

Will Rogers, August 15, 1935 - The Humorist Goes Silent

Actor, humorist and social commentator Will Rogers (1879-1935) and famed aviator Wiley Post (1898-1935) died instantly when their hybrid Lockheed Orion-Explorer crashed shortly after takeoff near Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935. Post had been interested in surveying a mail and air passenger route from the American West Coast to Russia, with his friend Rogers tailing along in order to gather new material for his newspaper columns. While headed to Point Barrow Post had become lost in bad weather, setting down his pontoon-equipped experimental aircraft in a lagoon in order to ask directions. In the air once again the fuel-starved engine apparently quit, putting the plane into a stall where it plunged nose first into the water.

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Carole Lombard, January 16, 1942 - Mrs. Clark Gable's Final War Bond Tour

Hollywood actress Carole Lombard (1908-1942), her mother Elizabeth Knight Peters (1877-1942), MGM press agent Otto Winkler (1903-1942) and 19 others died when their Trans Continental & Western DC-3 crashed into Table Rock Mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 16, 1942. Lombard, married to actor Clark Gable since 1939, had been returning to Los Angeles following a successful war bond tour in the Midwest. The crash site proved to be especially gruesome, with MGM executive Eddie Mannix, who later visited the scene, recalling that Lombard's body was headless and burned very badly. Lombard's final film, the comedy-drama To Be or Not to Be, was later released on March 6, 1942. One of Lombard's lines in the film, a casually spoken "What can happen on a plane?," was understandably cut by producers.   

Carole Lombard (1908-1942)

Leslie Howard, June 1, 1943 - Gone with the Luftwaffe

British actor Leslie Howard (1893-1943), along with 16 other passengers and crew, were on board KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777 when it was attacked and shot down by eight German Luftwaffe Ju-88s on June 1, 1943. Everyone aboard the Douglas DC-3, bound from Portugal to England, perished in the subsequent crash into the Bay of Biscay. One theory speculates that the Nazis attacked the unarmed civilian airliner in order to silence the popular, outspoken Howard. Other conjectures that the entire incident was merely an error, with the Germans mistaking the DC-3 for a military transport plane. Yet another theory opines that Howard was on a top-secret mission to Spain at the behest of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in order to dissuade Spanish dictator Francesco Franco from joining the Axis. Leslie Howard is perhaps best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939).

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William J. Felchner

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