Should we re-open the investigation into Jim's plane crash?
Posted by Larry Jordan on March 4, 2015, 9:38 am
I was quite amazed to read this morning's news that the National Transportation Safety Board is seriously considering re-opening the investigation into the cause of the 1959 plane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson after they played a gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. |
My dear friend Bob Hale, a longtime journalist who still does work for the regional magazine I publish and radio show I produce, was the emcee at the Surf the night the performers played the last show. In fact, Bob just appeared on our radio show a couple of weeks ago to provide more "insider" information about that night. Bob is the one that flipped the coin to decide who the fourth passenger would be that night. Although Tommy Allsup, Holly's guitar player, won the toss, he balked at paying $36 toward the cost of the charter flight, and relinquished his seat to Richard Valens.
For years the cause of the crash has been blamed on the pilot, 21-year old Roger Peterson. He was only qualified to fly by visual flight rules (VFR) like Jim Reeves, and had failed an instrumental flight test nine months earlier. Yet he idiotically took off around 1 a.m. in a snowstorm with high winds and 15 degree temperatures, knowing full well that the weather conditions were likely to deteriorate during the two hour flight. He had just worked a 17 hour day.
Besides the strong probability that he became disoriented in the snowy darkness soon after take-off, he had most likely misread the altitude indicator, which was different than the one on which he had trained, and inadvertently brought the plane down instead of up.
Indeed, the accident report states: "The high gusty winds and the attendant turbulence which existed this night would have caused the rate of climb indicator and the turn and bank indicator to fluctuate to such an extent that an interpretation of these instruments so far as attitude control is concerned would have been difficult to a pilot as inexperienced as Peterson. The airspeed and altimeter alone would not have provided him with sufficient reference to maintain control of the pitch attitude. With his limited experience the pilot would tend to rely on the attitude gyro." The trouble was that this was an "instrument with which he was not completely familiar. The pitch display of this instrument is the reverse of the instrument he was accustomed to; therefore, he could have become confused and thought that he was making a climbing turn when in reality he was making a descending turn. The fact that the aircraft struck the ground in a steep turn but with the nose lowered only slightly, indicates that some control was being effected at the time."
His boss, Jerry Dwyer of Dwyer Flying Service, has disputed the findings of the crash for years. Bad for business, you know.
When the bodies were found with the wreckage in a farm field the next morning just five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport, Buddy had $193 on his person. The coroner removed $11.65 for his own fees, literally picking the pocket of a dead man. Disgraceful.
According to this morning's news, the NTSB has agreed to consider another investigation after receiving a letter from L.J. Coon.
He's described by press accounts as "an experienced pilot from New England" who contends there were other issues the board should investigate, including weight and balance calculations, fuel gauge readings and a rudder.
Give me a break. "Other issues"? Weren't there already enough reasons to believe the plane obviously crashed due to the gross incompetence of the pilot?
If all it takes is a mere letter to the NTSB to re-open an investigation that has few mysteries remaining, I guess I should write a letter to the feds as well to ask them to re-open the investigation of Jim's plane crash, that occurred on Friday, July 31, 1964. The circumstances of his and Dean Manuel's deaths are still shrouded in mystery to a great extent, particularly the crash aftermath. As readers of my 672-page book, "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story," know, I devote two chapters to this tragedy.
Despite the fact that Nashville Controller John Hettish pinpointed the precise spot on his radar where the plane went down, authorities claimed they couldn't find the wreckage for two days, and misdirected search efforts to an entirely different location, while sealing off the narrow street that ran past the woods where Reeves' plane went down. A neighbor who was never interviewed by investigations or the press, spoke out for the first time in an exclusive interview videotaped for my book. He saw the plane in the seconds before the crash, and described in detail its behavior -- which confirmed the reconstruction of events that I had done with the enormous help of Jim's charter pilot, Bill Larson, who worked for Eastern Airlines for 30 years. Wiley Toombs, the witness, said that moments after the crash, commuters who were driving in rush hour traffic along Franklin Road around 5 p.m., were pulling into his yard, getting out of their cars, and dashing across his property (even knocking down a fence) to get to the woods just to the north. He insisted that people knew IMMEDIATELY after the crash where the plane could be found. Yet the Nashville media played along and dutifully reported what they were told to report — heedless of what airport officials were trying to tell searchers: LOOK JUST SOUTH OF THE HIGH VOLTAGE POWER TOWERS AND IN THE WOODS. Internal memoranda I obtained from the airport showed that by Sunday morning, they were so perplexed and frustrated by the lack of progress in the search efforts, that the airport manager and his colleagues were getting ready to drive down to the woods themselves.
Another irony is that on Friday night, July 31, the search team even assembled at the corner of Baxter Lane and Franklin Road, within sight of the woods. It was later claimed they looked amongst the trees but couldn't find the wreckage but this too is preposterous. As various people I interviewed have attested — including Bill Larson — the wreckage was located just a short distance inside of the small, 2 acre woods. Impossible to miss.
Bill had been at the airport that Friday awaiting Jim and Dean's arrival, when he was called by Hettish and told the plane had disappeared from radar. John vectored Bill to the exact spot, but Larson was unable to see the wreckage from the air due to the dense foliage. Later that night, he accompanied Tennessee Highway Patrolman Truman Clark, who flew a helicopter with search light over the area. They were puzzled to see searchers in an entirely different area, and were informed by radio that the plane had been reported down near Radnor Lake to the northwest. This was an outright lie.
As I further report, two members of U.S. intelligence agencies played key roles in this drama, including the man who allegedly found the wreckage on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1964. All federal agency files have been scrubbed clean with only a brief summary of the crash available. All files in Tennessee, that should still be retained at various agencies, have also disappeared.
The official story is that records of plane crashes are routinely destroyed, but you can go back and read the accident report regarding the death of actress Carole Lombard, that occurred in 1942! You can also obtain the accident reports on the Holly and Patsy Cline plane crashes. But not Jim's. WHY?
When I filed a Freedom of Information Act request, I was informed by the FBI that some of Jim Reeves' records were under seal with Kennedy assassination files, and other documents were destroyed on orders of a judge in Washington AFTER I filed by FOIA request.
But of course none of this is SUSPICIOUS, is it?
You can read the Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline accident reports, but not the Jim Reeves report. Because it's disappeared. However, I was able to gain access to the latter after years of exhaustive searching. It helped me to compile a minute-by-minute account of Jim's fatal flight.
It is is just preposterous that the NTSB would even consider re-opening an inquiry into the crash that killed Holly and the others, when there are no substantive mysteries remaining. But just try to get information out of the feds with regard to the Reeves accident, and the door will be slammed shut in your face.
While they're at it, they should also re-open the investigation into the death of the young woman who waited on Jim and Dean at the small general store, that was located adjacent to the runway at Batesville, Arkansas. That's the place where pilots could refuel. She was the last to see the two men alive, and had been called by the FAA that night to go out and check to see if any planes matched the "N" number of Jim's aircraft. She died mysteriously a short time later when her car was forced off a mountain road by a hit and run motorist. (Parts of another vehicle were found at the scene). Her family still believes there is more to this story. I agree.
So here is yet another example of how something that pertains to Jim Reeves doesn't matter, but when it comes to somebody else in the music business, it's a big deal.