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"I Hope Your Ol' Plane Crashes" - The Death Of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson

Waylon Jennings (left) in the last photo of Buddy Holly.

In the 1971 classic "American Pie," Don McLean wrote about "The Day the Music Died" — a.k.a. Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson were famously killed in a plane crash during a United States concert tour.

Long before boarding the plane, Holly — famous for songs like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" — was performing shows throughout the Midwest on the Winter Dance Party tour alongside Valens, Richardson, Dion and the Belmonts as well as Frankie Sardo. The musicians referred to the shows as "the tour from hell," as they had to travel hundreds of miles each day and move all their own equipment in temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ritchie Valens, "The Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson.

Weather conditions caused one performer to be hospitalized for frostbite, and many others came down with the flu. Holly was in a terrible mood in the hours leading up to a Feb. 2 concert in Clear Lake, Iowa — which would unknowingly be his last performance. After the show, he decided to avoid the cold and rent a private plane to fly himself and some of the musicians to their next gig in Fargo, North Dakota.

According to TMI, Holly planned to bring his band members, Jennings and Tommy Allsup, on the three-passenger plane. However, it's believed that Allsup was challenged to a coin toss by Valens, who ended up winning his seat on the ill-fated flight. Jennings also gave up his seat to Richardson, who'd gotten the flu and wanted to see a doctor before the next performance.

Supposedly, after hearing about the seat switch, Holly told Jennings, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up." In an eerie response that allegedly haunted Jennings until his death in 2002, he replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes."

The flight took off at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3 and crashed into a cornfield about five minutes later, with the cause believed to be a weather-induced error on 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson's part. He wasn't trained to fly in such poor conditions, which led to the crash that killed Holly at 22, Valens at 17 and Richardson at 28.

The plane had impacted terrain at high speed, estimated to have been around 170 mph (270 km/h), banked 90° to the right and in a nose-down attitude. The right wing tip struck the ground first, gouging a 12'x2' deep furrow, crumpling then breaking off. The fuselage then hit the ground right-side down and bounced a few feet back into the air, traveling another 50 feet through the air, simultaneously rolling inverted due to the remaining left wing still generating lift. The plane struck the ground a final time, in an inverted, nose-down position, the nose hitting and flipping the plane over into a right-side up, tail-first position. The momentum of the heavy engine caused the fuselage, left wing remaining attached and intact to the end, to roll upon itself into a virtual ball, rolling nose-over-tail across the frozen field for 540 feet (160 m), before coming to rest tail-first against a wire fence.

The body of Ritchie Valens

The bodies of the performers had been ejected from the fuselage and lay near the plane's wreckage, while Peterson's body was entangled in the cockpit. With the rest of the entourage en route to Minnesota, Anderson, who had driven the party to the airport and witnessed the plane's takeoff, had to identify the bodies of the musicians. The county coroner, Ralph Smiley, reported that all four victims died instantly, the cause of death being "gross trauma to brain" for the three musicians and "brain damage" for the pilot.

María Elena Holly learned of her husband's death via a television news report. A widow after only six months of marriage, she suffered a miscarriage shortly after, reportedly due to "psychological trauma". Holly's mother, on hearing the news on the radio at home in Lubbock, Texas, screamed and collapsed. The tragedy allegedly caused authorities to introduce protocols requiring names of the deceased to be concealed from the public until family has been notified.


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