NTSB Considers Reopening Buddy Holly Plane Crash Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board says it is considering reopening the investigation into the small plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and two other rock legends in addition to the pilot.


The crash occurred in 1959 outside of Mason City, Iowa.  Also killed were Richard Valenzuela, better known as Richie Valens, 17, and J.P. Richardson, known as “The Big Bopper,” 39. Two films — La Bamba, which told the story of Valens and The Buddy Holly Story — recreated the lead up of the crash.

A private pilot suggested reopening the case:

The accident, outside Mason City, Iowa, was blamed by the Civil Aeronautics Board, the forerunner of the NTSB, on pilot error and weather, but new information on the incident was suggested by L.J. Coon, a pilot. In a letter, he proposed additional investigation of the plane’s weight and balance, its rate of climb and descent and other factors.

“You have gotten our attention,” a return letter from the NTSB read in part.

The agency never closes a case, but has two months to review a petition to re-examine evidence in a plane accident, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

The Feb. 3, 1959 crash has achieved mythic status in American music history. Killed aboard the plane, with pilot Roger Peterson, were Holly, 22; Richard Valenzuela, better known as Richie Valens, 17, and J.P. Richardson, known as “The Big Bopper,” 39. Each was beginning his career in rock and roll, at that time a new and emerging radio format.

Waylon Jennings, then a member of Holly’s band and later a country music legend, gave up his seat to Richardson, who was ill and unable to travel with the rest of the entourage by car to their next appearance in Moorhead, Minn., Jennings claimed his decision haunted him until his own death, in 2002. Dion DiMucci, of Dion and the Belmonts, chose to travel by car when he learned of the airline’s $36 baggage fee.

The plane crash was referred to as “the day the music died,” in Don Mclean’s 1971 hit “American Pie.”


The short, meteoric rise of Holly and Valens was typical of the late 1950’s rock and roll era. Stars were brutally exploited, making millions for record companies while seeing pennies on the dollar for themselves. By their third album, most of them were has beens.

No one knows if Holly or Valens would have gone on to have long careers. But their tragic deaths guaranteed their immortality.


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