By Jim Johnson

It was 39 years ago tonight (October 20th, 1977), that a plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in a swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. At the time, the group was en route to its next show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The crash took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines; Lynyrd Skynyrd manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the plane’s two pilots.

Lynyrd’s Skynyrd’s head of security Gene Odom, who was on the plane and one of the 20 survivors, spoke to filmmaker Tony Beazley and recalled the state of Ronnie Van Zant’s body after the fatal crash: “Ronnie Van Zant had an eight-inch little nick and a fractured bone in his leg. His own father, when he went to identify the body the next day — October 21st — said also, that when they pulled Ronnie out, Ronnie looked like he was asleep. No injuries. He said that he just had a little bump right here behind his ear — a little cut. And Lacy (Van Zant) didn’t know his leg was broke. He says, ‘He just looked like he was laying there asleep.'”

All the other members of the band suffered horrific injuries, from which they eventually recovered. Two years later, survivors Gary Rossington and Allen Collins (guitars), Billy Powell (keyboards) and Leon Wilkeson (bass) formed a new group, the Rossington-Collins Band. A decade after the plane crash, the surviving members of Skynyrd regrouped under the legendary name and played a series of dates to mark the anniversary with Johnny Van Zant, the youngest brother of Ronnie Van Zant, stepping in as his permanent replacement.

  • When we last caught up with Gary Rossington — who broke both arms, both legs, both wrists, both ankles and his pelvis in the plane crash — was asked what motivates him and his bandmates to keep the Skynyrd name alive: “Gosh, it’s just, y’know, you gotta carry on, and go through it. If you take the lives of just any seven individuals and follow them, tragedy happens, y’know? And it just happened to us. And we just kept carryin’ on, we’re doin’ it for the guys that aren’t with us, and for us, and for the music and the name and — it’s what we are.”
  • Out now is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Pronounced Leh-nerd Skinnerd’ & ‘Second Helping’ – Live From Jacksonville At The Florida Theatre on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats.
  • The collection, which was recorded last year, features the band performing its first two studio albums, 1973’s Pronounced Leh-nerd Skinnerd and 1974’s Second Helping, live in their entirety for the first time, at two specially staged concerts at the Florida Theatre in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.

CHECK IT OUT: Lynyrd Skynyrd on July 2nd, 1977 performing “Free Bird” live at Oakland Stadium:

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