Lynryd Skynryd Plane Crash: A Premonition and a Ghost


On October 20, 1977, exactly 36 years ago today, a plane carrying the Southern rock band Lynryd Skynryd crashed in a remote forest near Gillsburg, Mississippi. The accident killed three band members- lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines -as well as the band’s assistant road manager and the two pilots manning the plane. Twenty others survived, though many suffered life-altering injuries.

The Premonition
Backup singer JoJo Billingsley was the only band member not on the plane that night. According to official accounts, Billingsley was ill and planned to join the band a few days later. However, JoJo claimed she foresaw the crash in a dream two nights before the incident and begged other band members not to board the aircraft.

The band obviously didn’t listen, but many of the crew felt uneasy riding in the plane, especially since they’d seen flames shoot out of the right engine on a trip just prior to the accident. In fact, Cassie Gaines originally wanted to ride in the band’s equipment truck rather than board the plane, but Ronnie Van Zant talked her out of it. Both perished in the crash. Van Zant reportedly said: “C’mon, let’s go. If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”

Ronnie’s Ghost
Legend has it Ronnie Van Zant haunts Freebird Live, a bar and live music venue owned by his widow Judy. According to a 2002 article in the Florida Times-Union, a staff member left a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey on the counter one night. When employees opened up the next morning, the bottle was empty.

“They say Ronnie drank it, it was him,” said Kristen Van Zant, Ronnie’s niece and manager of the café.

Jack Daniel’s was one of the musician’s favorite drinks. Kristen and other employees believed Ronnie drank the liquor to show them he was around.

Van Zant reported other strange events in the building, including a TV that turned on and off and a computer mouse that moved on its own. However, she wasn’t sure if her uncle was responsible or if other spirits were to blame.

The Cause of the Crash
The National Transportation Safety Board ultimately determined the probable cause of the accident was fuel exhaustion and total loss of power from both engines due to crew inattention to fuel supply. Inadequate flight planning and an engine malfunction contributed to the rapid depletion of fuel.

What do you think of the tales? Do you believe JoJo truly had a premonition or was it something she claimed after the crash?

3 thoughts on “Lynryd Skynryd Plane Crash: A Premonition and a Ghost

  1. An interesting side note. I worked in a record store when this happened. Take a look at the original “Street Survivors” album cover, with the fire on it. It was said that the flames were on the people who died. The album was released Oct 17th, 77, three days before the crash. They recalled the album covers and redid them without the fire.

  2. According to a very good source, one who was in the plane crash and that I had an extended conversation with a couple of years ago, JoJo was not on the Street Survivors tour and it was actually Cassie who had the premonition. Think what you want but I know what I know. I can’t blame JoJo for wanting to own the premonition story but may she rest in peace.

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