Celebrities Who Died in Plane Crashes, From Glenn Miller to Aaliyah (2023)

Singer Patsy Cline, who was killed in a crash of a Piper Comanche in 1963 (from the Autumn 2022 issue of Aviation History), was neither the first nor the last popular musician to die in an airplane crash. Here are some notable cases.

Glenn Miller (1944)

The popular swing-era bandleader disappeared over the English Channel on December 15, 1944, while a passenger on a single-engine UC-64-A Norseman. The airplane took off from Twinwood Airfield, about 50 miles north of London, en route to Paris, where Major Miller, 40, was going to make arrangements to bring his Army band to the continent to entertain American troops. He never arrived. Theories abound about what happened. One says a British bomber returning home after bad weather had obscured its target jettisoned its bomb load and accidentally blew the Norseman out of the air; another speculated that the Norseman’s wings had iced over, causing the airplane to plunge into the Channel. Miller, pilot John Morgan and another passenger, Colonel Norman Baessell, were never seen again.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (1959)

Immortalized by Don McLean’s song “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died,” the crash of a Beechcraft Bonanza on February 3, 1959, took the lives of 22-year-old Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue”), Ritchie Valens (17) and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper,” who was 28). Shortly after taking off from the airport in Clear Lake, Iowa, on a flight to Fargo, North Dakota, for a show in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, the single-engine airplane encountered bad weather and crashed in a cornfield. All aboard, including the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson, died. Valens, whose big hit was “La Bamba,” got a seat on the airplane after winning a coin flip with guitarist Tommy Allsup. Waylon Jennings, then a member of Holly’s band, gave up his seat to Richardson, who was sick. The investigation blamed pilot Peterson, who was not prepared for the weather he encountered on the flight.

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Patsy Cline (1963)

Country singer Patsy Cline, 30, and three others died in a crash of a Piper Comanche on March 5, 1963. Cline was on her way back to her home in Nashville, Tennessee, after performing in Kansas City, Kansas. The pilot was her manager, Ramsey “Randy” Dorris Hughes. Bad weather had been making the trip difficult and forced several stops along the way. After taking off from Dyersburg, Tennessee, into rain, clouds and darkening skies, the airplane crashed to earth in the countryside about 75 miles west of Nashville. Cline, Hughes and musicians Harold Franklin “Hankshaw” Hawkins and Llody Estel “Cowboy” Copas were all killed. The accident investigators blamed pilot error.

Celebrities Who Died in Plane Crashes, From Glenn Miller to Aaliyah (2)
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Jim Reeves (1964)

Country singer Jim Reeves, 40, died in a crash similar to Cline’s, except in this case Reeves was flying his own airplane. The singer, known for hits like “Four Walls,” took off from Batesville, Arkansas, on July 31, 1964, for a flight to Nashville. Reeves was at the controls of his single-engine Beechcraft 35-B33 Debonair. His only passenger was his manager, Dean Manuel. Reeves flew into a violent rainstorm over Brentwood, Tennessee, and apparently became disoriented. The airplane plunged into the ground at high speed. It took 42 hours to locate the wreckage in a search that included country stars Marty Robbins and Ernest Tubb.

Otis Redding (1967)

Soul singer Otis Redding, 26, died in the crash of his chartered twin-engine Beechcraft 18 on December 10, 1967. Redding and members of his band, the Bar-Kays, had taken off from the airport in Cleveland for a flight to Madison, Wisconsin, with pilot Richard Fraser. The weather was bad, with cold drizzle and fog. While on the approach to Madison the airplane plunged into Lake Monona. The exact cause of the crash remains undetermined, but the Beechcraft may have been experiencing engine problems. Of the seven passengers, the only survivor was 20-year-old Ben Cauley, one of the musicians. (The opening band for Redding in Madison that night was to be a local outfit called the Grim Reapers, featuring future Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.) Four months after Redding’s death his single “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” reached the top of the charts. It was his first #1 record.

Jim Croce (1973)

Singer/songwriter Jim Croce, 30, was a rising star on September 20, 1973, when he performed his last concert at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He had achieved chart success with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and other songs and was working on a third album. Weary of the road, he was eager to get to the next and final stop on the tour in Sherman, Texas. The pilot of his chartered Beechcraft E18 was Robert N. Elliott, who had to make most of the three-mile trip to the airport on foot because he couldn’t get a cab. Immediately after takeoff from Natchitoches Regional Airport, the airplane hit a pecan tree. All six onboard, including guitarist Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, road manager Dennis Rast and Croce’s agent, Kenneth D. Cortese, died in the crash. The investigation blamed pilot error.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

Members of the country rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird”) were aboard a chartered flight of a twin-engine Convair CV-240 on October 20, 1977. The band’s fifth album, Street Survivors, had been released only three days before. The flight flew out of Greenville, South Carolina, en route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when it crashed near Gillsburg, Mississippi. The accident investigation determined that the airplane ran out of fuel because the pilots had neglected to properly check their fuel status. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant (29), guitarist Steve Gaines (28) and backup singer Cassie Gaines (29) were killed, as was an assistant road manager and the pilot and copilot. Twenty other people aboard the Convair survived. MCA Records later re-released Street Survivors with a different cover—the original had shown the band surrounded by flames.

Celebrities Who Died in Plane Crashes, From Glenn Miller to Aaliyah (3)(Street Survivors was released three days before a plane crash killed three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The record label re-released the album with a different cover. )

Randy Rhoads (1982)

On March 19, 1982, Randy Rhoads, guitarist for rocker Ozzy Osbourne, died in the crash of a Beechcraft Bonanza in Leesburg, Florida. Rhoads, 25, was a passenger in the airplane, which was flown by Andrew Aycock, who drove a bus for the band. The airplane belonged to country singer Jerry Calhoun. The accident happened when Aycock, whose pilot’s license had expired, attempted to buzz Osbourne’s tour bus, clipped a wing on the bus, and crashed into Calhoun’s house. All three aboard the airplane, including the band’s seamstress, were killed. According to the report by the National Transportation Safety Board, “The pilot, who was a rock group driver, took an aircraft from the hangar without permission to joy ride members of the group.”

Ricky Nelson (1985)

Singer Ricky Nelson, 45, had become famous as one of the offspring of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and played himself on his parents’ shows on radio and television. Interested in music, Nelson launched a musical career, with hits that included “Hello Mary Lou” and “Garden Party.” He was killed on December 31, 1985, when his airplane, a 1944 Douglas DC-3 that Nelson had purchased for use as a tour airplane, was attempting an emergency landing due to an interior fire. The DC-3 had taken off from Guntersville, Alabama, for a flight to Dallas and crashed outside De Kalb, Texas. The cause of the fire was believed to be a defective heater. The pilot and copilot survived but were badly burned; the other seven aboard were killed.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan (1990)

After serving as David Bowie’s guitarist on the 1983 album Let’s Dance, Stevie Ray Vaughan, 35, enjoyed a successful solo career as a blues singer/guitarist with his band Double Trouble. He died early in the morning of August 27, 1990, in the crash of a Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter outside Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The helicopter had departed from the Alpine Valley Music Theater for a flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport following Vaughan’s concert appearance with Eric Clapton and others. Shortly after taking off, the helicopter crashed into a nearby ski mountain. All aboard, four passengers and pilot Jeff Brown, were killed. The cause was put down as pilot error; Brown might have experienced night blindness after taking off under bright lights and then ascending into fog and darkness.

John Denver (1997)

Singer-songwriter John Denver, whose hits included “Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High,” died on October 12, 1997, in the crash of a home-built aircraft he had recently purchased. Denver (born John Henry Deutschendorf Jr.) had been flying a Rutan Long-EZ on the Pacific Coast near Pacific Grove, California, when the airplane plunged into the ocean. Denver, 53, was an experienced pilot (although his license had been suspended following incidents of drunk driving) but investigators determined he had probably crashed after unsuccessfully attempting to switch fuel tanks in flight, a maneuver that may have led him to inadvertently hit the rudder pedal by mistake, leading to a loss of control.

Aaliyah (2001)

Singer, dancer and actress Aailyah (full name Aaliyah Dana Haughton) was only 22 when she died in the crash of a twin-engine Cessna 402 on August 25, 2001. Aailyah had released three best-selling albums at the time of her death and was married briefly (and illegally) to her mentor, rapper and producer R. Kelly, at the age of 15. After shooting a music video, she and eight other people had boarded the chartered Cessna for a flight from the Bahamas to Florida. The airplane crashed just after takeoff, killing all aboard. Investigators found that pilot Luis Morales III had traces of drugs and alcohol in his system and was not rated to fly the Cessna, and that the airplane had been overloaded.

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FAQs

Who else died in the plane crash with Aaliyah? ›

All nine on board died in the crash, including Aaliyah, Anthony Dodd, Eric Foreman, Scott Gallin, Keeth Wallace, Gina Smith, Douglas Kratz, Christopher Maldonado, and the pilot, Luis Morales. A private funeral was held for Aaliyah on Aug. 31, 2001, in Manhattan, followed by a procession, attended by about 800 mourners.

How many people died on the plane with Aaliyah? ›

One of the passengers was sent to check on her and proceeded to slip her a sedative; she was then carried unconscious into the plane. The aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. Aaliyah and seven of the eight others on board were killed instantly.

How many famous people have died in plane crashes? ›

Over 300 celebrities, historical figures, actors, singers, and other famous people have tragically died in airplane accidents, leaving great work behind in many cases.

How much is Aaliyah's estate worth? ›

Aaliyah Net Worth
Net Worth:$8 Million
Date of Birth:Jan 16, 1979 - Aug 25, 2001 (22 years old)
Gender:Female
Height:5 ft 7 in (1.71 m)
Profession:Singer, Model, Actor, Dancer
1 more row

What did Jet Li say about Aaliyah? ›

Li also reflected on his work as an Asian lead opposite Aaliyah in 2000's Romeo Must Die, a rarity in film and TV at the time. “I am so glad I have a chance to work with Aaliyah. I always remember she was charming and beautiful,” he said, before thanking the Black community for supporting his films.

Who was with Aaliyah before she died? ›

Damon Dash, a media tycoon, entrepreneur, film producer, and co-founder of Roc-A-Fella with Jay-Z and Kareem Burke, had been dating Aaliyah for about a year before she was killed in the airline accident.

What famous female singer died in a plane crash? ›

On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah died at the age of 22 in an airplane accident in the Bahamas, when the overloaded aircraft she was traveling in crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all nine on board.

What singer died in a plane crash in the 80s? ›

American pop singer Ricky Nelson died during the attempted crash-landing of his band's aircraft on December 31, 1985. The plane, a Douglas DC-3, was brought down mid-flight outside De Kalb, Texas, by a fire that rapidly spread from a suspected faulty in-cabin heater.

What singer died in a plane crash in the 90s? ›

On board was R&B singer Aaliyah Dana Haughton, commonly known as "Aaliyah." STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: Twenty years ago today, on August 25, 2001, a small Cessna plane crashed. It burst into flames shortly after takeoff from the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.

How many planes crashed 2022? ›

6 plane crashes in year 2022

The Antonov AN-28 operated by Transcep Congo Aviation took off from Bukavu, DR Congo, for a freight flight to Kasese, DR Congo. 3 crewmembers were onboard. The plane was declared missing about…

How many plane crashes happen a day? ›

In that same year, 1,474 accidents were reported involving general aviation aircraft. NTSB statistics from 2013 reveal that in contrast to the safety record of commercial airplanes, small private planes average five accidents per day, accounting for nearly 500 American deaths in small planes each year.

What causes death in a plane crash? ›

Head trauma was the most common fatal blunt injury, followed by injuries to the chest and the abdomen. Thirty-six percent of the head injuries and 27% of the chest injuries had associated cervical and thoracic spine fractures, respectively.

Who survived the plane crash with Aaliyah? ›

The lone survivor of the crash, listed in critical condition at a hospital in Miami, was identified by police as Anthony Dodd, 34, of Los Angeles.

How much is Aaliyah's estate worth? ›

Aaliyah Net Worth
Net Worth:$8 Million
Date of Birth:Jan 16, 1979 - Aug 25, 2001 (22 years old)
Gender:Female
Height:5 ft 7 in (1.71 m)
Profession:Singer, Model, Actor, Dancer
1 more row

What did Jet Li say about Aaliyah? ›

Li also reflected on his work as an Asian lead opposite Aaliyah in 2000's Romeo Must Die, a rarity in film and TV at the time. “I am so glad I have a chance to work with Aaliyah. I always remember she was charming and beautiful,” he said, before thanking the Black community for supporting his films.

Does Aaliyah have a brother? ›

Rashad Hasan Haughton (born August 6, 1977) is an American writer, film director and screenwriter. Haughton is the older brother of American singer and actress Aaliyah and nephew of Blackground Records founder Barry Hankerson.

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