The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash and How Ronnie Van Zant’s Death Changed Music

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 06, 2023

Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the most important and influential bands of the 1970s. The American Southern rock band could have further shaped music history if not for the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of two band members.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was an American rock band that rose to prominence in the 1970s during the boom of Southern rock. Their music was embraced by the working class of the South and helped to create a sense of regional pride.

Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd

“For many people, Ronnie Van Zant was Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s website reads. While Van Zant loved baseball and fishing, he found himself gravitating toward music. In early 1964, Van Zant discovered that a group of students he knew at Lakeshore Junior High in Jacksonville, Florida, were looking for a singer.

Ronnie Van Zant according to his former bandmates

Source: YouTube

Van Zant auditioned and became the frontman for Us. Soon, Van Zant would meet Gary Rossington, Bob Burns, and Allen Collins. They began practicing at Collin’s house until his mother would return at 9 p.m. at night.


The Birth of Lynyrd Skynyrd

After several years of practicing and name changes, Skynyrd started performing. Ronnie Van Zant vetoed the record deal with Capricorn Records offered by Jimmy Johnson after manager Alan Walden connected them.

A publicity photo of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1973.

Source: MCA Records/Wikimedia Commons

In 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd was discovered by renowned producer Al Kooper and struck a record deal with MCA subsidiary Sounds of the South. Skynyrd recorded “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd,” and would be on its rise to fame with hits “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” and “Freebird.”

The Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd

The founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd included Ronnie Van Zant as lead vocals, Gray Rossington and Allen Collins on guitar, Larry Junstrom on bass guitar, and Bob Burns on drums.

A grayscale photo of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1977

Source: MCA Records/Wikimedia Commons

The band’s name refers to Leonard Skinner, a teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville who had suspended several band members for having long hair (via American Songwriter).

The Impact of Lynyrd Skynyrd on Music

Lynyrd Skynyrd left an incredible mark on the musical landscape in the United States. Their distinctive blend of bluesy rock, country influences, and rebellious spirit resonated through the generations of listeners.

Crowd Rolling Stones, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Todd Rundgren concert in 1976 at Knebworth House in England.

Source: Sérgio Valle Duarte/Wikimedia Commons

Characterized by their signature triple-guitar attack from Collins, Rossington, and Gaines, anchored by the powerful vocals of Van Zant, the anthems Lynyrd Skynyrd created transcended generations and cultural boundaries, uniting, inspiring, and energized listeners and musicians around the world.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash and the Lynyrd Skynyrd Frontman’s Death

By Oct. 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs had become radio staples. Their latest album, “Street Survivors, had been released to critical acclaim. As they prepared for a new tour by stepping on a plane from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, almost everyone had a bad feeling.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash

Source: ZZTopKotor/YouTube

According to Rolling Stone, band manager Peter Rudge had bought a nearly 30-year-old Convair 240 because the group of musicians had caused too many issues on commercial flights. Two hours into their flight, both engines failed, and the plane plummeted to the ground.


Where Did Lynyrd Skynyrd's Plane Crash?

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed in a wooded area near Gillburn, Mississippi, nearly 45 miles away from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Convair 240-14 USGS on a tarmac

Source: Bill Larkins/Wikimedia Commons

According to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s website, the band’s Convair CV-240 aircraft had run out of fuel near the end of the flight. The pilots attempted to navigate to McComb Airport, about 10 miles northeast of the eventual crash site in Amite County, Mississippi. Unfortunately, the plane was unable to make it.


Who Died in the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash?

Six people died in the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash on Oct. 20, 1977.

Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Allen Collins work with producer Al Kooper on "Pronounced Lynyrd Skynyrd" with engineer Bob “Tub” Langford looking on in the control room at Studio I on May 6, 1973

Source: Tom Hill/Getty Images

Lead vocalist and founding member Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gains (Steve’s older sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, Captain Walter McCreary, and First Officer William John Gray all died due to the crash, while 20 others survived with critical injuries.


When Did Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Plane Crash

At 6:42 p.m., the pilot of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s chartered Convair 240 airplane radioed that the craft was dangerously low on fuel. The Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash happened at 6:52 p.m. on Oct. 20, 1977.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial Site in Amite County, Mississippi

Source: Mississippi Historical Markers

The crash site is located in a remote area of Amite County, Mississippi, approximately 10 miles east of Gillsburg. A memorial marker was erected at the site in 1981, and it remains a place of pilgrimage for Lynyrd Skynyrd fans from around the world.


What Happened to Lynyrd Skynyrd?

According to All That’s Interesting, a reporter asked keyboardist Billy Powell if Lynyrd Skynyrd would continue to perform soon after the crash, and Powell solemnly replied, “I don’t think so.”

Black and Gray Audio Mixer

Source: Dmitry Demidov/Pexels

Understandably, the tragedy had left the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in a state of disbelief. The American rock band went on a hiatus to grieve the loss of their bandmates and grapple with the trauma of the crash.


The Reformation Of Lynyrd Skynyrd

In 1979, they reunited briefly to perform an instrumental version of “Freebird” at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam V, but it was not until 1987 that they officially reformed.

Concert of the American group Lynyrd Skynyrd at Hellfest 2019.

Source: Selbymay/Wikimedia Commons

Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, took over the role of lead vocalist. Gary Rossington, the only remaining original member from the crash, joined the new lineup on guitar. Powell, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and drummer Artimus Pyle joined the new version of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band continues to perform today, though many more members of the band have died in recent years, including Wilkeson and Powell.


How Ronnie Van Zant's Death Changed Music

Ronnie Van Zant was one of the most influential figures in Southern rock. His death was a loss for the genre, and for music entirely.

Singer Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd is interviewed in his hotel room at Stouffer's Hotel on July 8, 1976 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Tom Hill/Getty Images)

Source: Tom Hill/Getty Images

The powerful vocalist and charismatic frontman was a gifted songwriter who touched something powerful in the hearts of listeners. Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s influence can be heard in the music across many different genres to this day.


How Did Ronnie Van Zant’s Accident Shape Tammy Van Zant’s Life?

Tammy Van Zant, the daughter of Ronnie Van Zant, had a troubling childhood. With the tragic loss of her father and inattentive mother figures, Van Zant decided to reflect her life into music.

Tammy Van Zant posing for a photo

Source: Tammy Van Zant via Facebook

By the time of her father’s death, Van Zant’s wife and he had divorced, and Tammy’s biological mother, Nadine Inscoe, had fallen into a prescription drug addiction and was unable to care for the young girl. These hardships and feelings of isolation would later be reflected in Tammy’s music.


How Did Ronnie Van Zant’s Daughter Tammy Die?

On July 11, 2022, Jane Van Zant, known as Aunt Jane to Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, announced on Facebook that Ronnie Van Zant’s daughter had died. Tammy was 54 years old.

Tammy Van Zant and Ronnie Van Zant sitting on a couch

Source: Tammy Van Zant via Facebook

Tammy followed in her father’s steps into music, but her fate didn’t let her complete her future projects. Tammy released her single, “Freebird Child,” in 2009, and her debut studio record of the same name in 2014. Her other track, “Surviving on a Wing and a Prayer,” was dedicated to all the women who had struggled with traumatic hardships throughout their lives.