In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a small aircraft carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed a few miles from Mason City Municipal Airport, near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Pilot Roger Peterson also died in the crash.
The voice of the hit songs “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day” was silenced forever.
A few months later, the Civil Aeronautics Board blamed the accident primarily on the pilot’s lack of qualification and certification to fly solely by instruments and secondarily on an inadequate weather briefing. (PDF).
Now, the National Transportation Safety Board, the successor to the aeronautics board, may be taking another look.
The NTSB received a letter from aviation enthusiast L.J. Coon, a self-described retired pilot and aircraft dispatcher, asking it to look at other possible contributing factors to the crash. They include the aircraft’s weight and balance calculations (for passengers, baggage and fuel), possible issues with rudder panels and possible carburetor Induction icing, Coon told CNN in an email.
“You have gotten our attention,” the NTSB wrote in February, saying it would examine the information he provided, Coon’s email said.
The NTSB never fully closes a case, but any petition to re-examine a crash needs to show that there is new information suggesting the original probable cause is incorrect, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.
The agency has two months to review the petition and decide whether there’s new information that would make it revisit the case.
In 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson were part of the Winter Dance Party, a tour that had started in Milwaukee and traveled to small cities in Minnesota and Iowa.
The musicians had traveled in subfreezing temperatures in unheated buses, and people were getting sick. Holly booked the four-seat aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, where he planned to finally do laundry and rest in advance of the group’s next concert in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.
Country legend Waylon Jennings, then Holly’s bass player, gave up his seat to a sick Richardson. Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64, was haunted by his decision for years to come.
Dion and the Belmonts were also on the tour, but Dion gave up his seat on the plane after hearing the $36 per-person price tag. He was the only headliner not on the plane and the only headliner who didn’t die that night.
The crash has inspired generations of artists. Lou Diamond Phillips played Ritchie Valens (originally Valenzuela) in the 1987 hit movie “La Bamba.” Gary Busey played Holly in the 1978 movie “The Buddy Holly Story.”
Don McLean, who was inspired by Holly’s music, memorialized that day as “The Day the Music Died” in his 1971 song “American Pie.”