A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried

When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Lyrics from “American Pie,” by Don McLean, 1971, © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management

The Day the Music Died refers to a fatal Beech Bonanza aircraft crash that occurred 60 years ago yesterday, near Mason City, Iowa.  Killed in the crash were three early rock and roll legends: Charles Hardin Holley (Buddy Holly), J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), and Richie Valenzuela (Richie Valens). The 23-year pilot was also killed.

As part of a Midwest concert tour, the three entertainers and other band members performed in Clear Lake, Iowa, on the night of February 2, 1959, and were scheduled to perform the following night in Moorhead, Minnesota.  Rather than ride on the bus used for the concert tour, the three chartered the aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest airport to Moorhead.  (Waylon Jennings was another band member and he gave up his seat on the aircraft to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from the flu and complained about riding on the bus).

Prior to the National Transportation Safety Board’s commencement of operations in 1967, and starting in 1940 the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) exercised statutory aviation accident investigation authority in accordance with the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938.  The CAB’s Aircraft Accident Report on the accident, released on September 23, 1959, stated:

This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot’s decision to undertake the 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.

Besides the undiminished public interest in this 60-year old accident, we also are writing about this accident in Plane-ly Spoken for another reason: despite the significant passage of time, the accident continues to offer valuable aviation safety lessons.  In particular, the FAA has provided valuable information about the accident that remains timely. The agency has established a website entitled Lessons Learned from Civil Aviation Accidents.  The site is subdivided into three categories of accidents: small airplanes, transport airplanes, and rotorcraft. The small airplane library is in early development and currently contains only information related to the 1959 Beech Bonanza accident.  The other two libraries are more robust but all three offer important content and links.  The FAA plans to add further content to the three libraries.

The site devoted to the 1959 accident includes the CAB’s Accident Report, relevant historical regulations, policies, and background, recent GA data on loss of control in flight, resulting FAA and General Aviation Joint Steering Committee safety initiatives, and a large-numbered but non-exhaustive list of accidents resulting from inadvertent flight from VFR into IMC conditions (a total of 46 accidents).

Kudos to the FAA for establishing its Lessons Learned library!