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.
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.”
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?