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Gillsburg Plane Crash Kills Six,
Hurts 20 Including Rock Singers
A twin-engine airplane, apparently out of fuel, crashed before 7p.m. Thursday in a wooded
area of Amite County near Gillsburg. Six persons including the lead singer of the rock group
Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed and 20 were injured. The propeller-driven Convair 240 skidded
across tree tops for about 100 yards, then slammed into a swampy area and split open about
eight miles short of McComb Airport after reporting it was having fuel trouble or was running
low on fuel", an Air Traffic Controller reported. The dead included lead singer Ronnie Van
Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines, Gaines sister, medical authorities
said. Pilot Walter Wiley McCreary and co-pilot William John Gray, both of Dallas Texas, and
Dean Kilpatrick, assistant road manager for the group, also died officials said. Six other
members of the hard rock band were injured, two hurt critically and four hospitalized in stable
condition. The injured, some of them also in critical condition, included members of the
group's road crew and a cameraman, said officials of Southwest Mississippi Medical Center.
The chartered plane owned by L&J Co. of Addison Texas, came down on its nose southwest
of McComb, twisting the cockpit to the left, and threw seven or eight persons to the ground
when it split open at about the middle of the fuselage, it was believed. The impact, which
triggered no fire, tossed other passengers toward the front of the aircraft. "They were all in
front of the plane and they were all shouting, get me out, get me, get me." said Constable
Gerrald Wall. "We were actually standing on people to get others out". Johnny Mote, who
lives near the crash site close to the Mississippi-Louisiana border, said the plane "sounded
like a car skidding in gravel" as it clipped the trees. "When it hit the ground it was a deep
rumble, like it was underground. It sounded like wrinkling metal" he said. The group was en
route from a Wednesday night performance in Greenville South Carolina to a Friday night
concert before an expected crowd of 10,000 persons at Louisiana State University in Baton
Rouge. The plane had passed McComb when it reported that it was having fuel trouble, and
was told by the Houston Texas flight center to turn around and land at McComb, said Everett
Fairly, an air traffic controller at McComb. "I tried to call them, but we couldn't raise them, and
Houston reported it had lost radar and radio contact", Fairly said. A spokesman for the
Federal Administration in Atlanta GA said the pilot had reported being low on fuel. Thick
undergrowth hampered rescue operations and some emergency vehicles became stuck in
the mud when they tried to drive through the woods to get close to the aircraft. Rescue crews
were also hindered by a 20-foot wide, waist deep creek they had to cross to reach the plane.
Pickup trucks and vans were used along with ambulances to carry the dead and injured to
hospitals. A Southwest Medical Center spokesman said identification of the victims were
complicated because passengers were apparently playing poker before the plane went down
and had there wallets and identification papers out.  Fairly said a small jet was landing at
McComb at the time the plane was reported in difficulty and ask the jet pilot to fly over the
area. "But it was very dark and the pilot said he could see nothing from the air," Fairly said.
The plane came down near open pasture land, tearing off one of the wings and twisting the
other. Recuers had to rip open the nose to get to victims. Two bulldozers were used to cut a
path through the woods and brush from nearby Mississippi 568. Donald Chase who lives
about five miles from the area, said he heard "that the plane was having engine trouble
because it was sputtering." Mote said he was putting some hay out when three bloody
survivors who had made their way through the woods called him for help. "One of them was
hugging me around the neck and telling me, "We got to get them out." Mote estimated it took
up to 3 1/2 hours to remove all the bodies from the plane. Michael White who lives in
Gillsburg, said he and his family heard the engines of the airplane sputtering about 6:45pm.
"I guess it crashed about 6:47pm" he said, but were unable to find the plane."I called the
airport about 7:00pm," he said, but was told there was no plane in the area. The Pike
County Civil Defense said the crash was reported to its office shortly before 7pm.

Busy Night at Hospital
"We practice disaster drills so many times during the year that when this one came up I
wondered if people would think it was practice too," said Southwest Mississippi Regional
Administrator Tom Logue this morning. "But when the first patient arrived, we went to work.
They knew this wasn't a drill. I was real proud of everyone at the hospital," he said. Logue
and most hospital employees, as well as Civil Defense personnel and others who took part in
the rescue operations following Thursday night's plane crash near Gillsburg, had gone
through an almost sleepless night. Six persons died in the crash and of the 20 survivors, four
were listed in critical condition at SMRMC today. Eight others were transferred during the
night to Jackson hospitals, seven were listed in stable condition at SMRMC, and one was not
hospitalized. Among the injured were members of the musical rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Three members were killed (see related stories). In critical condition in the intensive care unit
at the McComb hospital were Leon Wilkeson, bass guitarist, with chest injuries, multiple
abrasions and fractured left arm and left leg; Craig Reed, a member of the road crew, chest
injury , lacerations and abrasions, fractured left arm; James Bracy, road crew, chest wound,
abrasion, fractured left arm. Listed in critical condition, but not the intensive care unit, was
Kevin Elson, the groups sound engineer, with a fractured right leg and ankle, fractured pelvis
and left leg. Others, still being treated at SMRMC, all in stable condition this morning. were
Ron Eckerman, road manager, chest contusion and rib fractures, and road crew members
Kenneth Peden, multiple contusions, Steve Lawler, chest contusions, facial lacerations;
Clayton Johnson, fractured right clavicle and left elbow; Don Kretzechman, chest injury,
abrasions; Joe Osborn, multiple lacerations of the face, fractured ribs, and right clavicle; and
Mark Frank, multiple abrasions, probably cerebral contusion. Transferred to University
Hospital and listed in stable condition were vocalist Leslie Hawkins, facial lacerations and
neck problems; Larken Allen Collins, guitarist, spine injuries; and road crewman Gene Odom,
eye injuries and a deep scalp wound, and Paul Welch, injuries not known. At Baptist Hospital,
also listed as stable, were Gary Rossington, guitarist, multiple fractures; Bill Powell, pianist,
lacerations; Bill Sykes, a television film crewman, multiple fractures; and Mark Howard, road
crew, head and back injuries. Another member of the group, drummer Artimus Pyle, was
treated at Beacham Memorial Hospital in Magnolia. He reportedly walked away from the crash
site and notified a nearby resident of the crash. Addresses of the victims have not been
released to authorities. Logue said emergency treatment facilities were set up in the front
lobby of the hospital before the first patients arrived from the crash scene. "The emergency
room would have been bottlenecked with that many people, so we set up a treatment center
in the lobby," he said. "The most critically injured were sent directly to surgery, the critical
ones were taken care of in the lobby. We had IV bottles and all the necessary equipment to
take care of them right there. Those less seriously injured were put in rooms upstairs,
including the obstetrics ward, and in the emergency room." Logue said several persons were
discharged from the hospital during the night to make room for the accident victims, but that
some of those discharged later were readmitted. "It was a problem for a while, finding enough
beds," he said. Three helicopters from the Coast Guard, National Guard and Forrest County
General Hospital assisted in the rescue operation, Logue said, transporting at least two
doctors to the scene and lighting the area with floodlights. Logue noted two problems
hampered operations at the hospital during the night. "The telephone was busy all night long"
he said. "I talked with people from Sydney, Australia and London, as well as from all over the
country." The other problem, he continued, was keeping up with the identities of the victims.
"We had a hard time keeping names straight, and of course everyone wanted a list of
the victims and how badly they were hurt". "They did a tremendous job in organizing
the operation and handling events as they came up," said Mrs Willy Mae Lund,
one of the hospital trustees who assisted during the night.

Bad Place to Bring Plane Down
Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center and other area emergency personnel practice
periodically handling mock disasters. Last night, it was the real thing, and from the looks of
the activity at the hospital the practice has paid off. Only thing, though, nobody had practiced
removing 26 plane crash victims from a swampy patch of woods out from Gillsburg, across a
creek to waiting ambulances. It took some three hours or more from the time the plane
crashed to get the job done, but again, those whose jobs it is to do such things, carried out
their duties with precision and skill and as much speed as possible under difficult situations.
Bob Kirkfield, Enterprise-Journal advertising manager, and I arrived on the scene amid the
rescue efforts. It was hard enough getting across the 20-foot wide creek carrying a camera.
It obviously would have been harder carrying an injured person. We walked across a fallen
tree. Some were fording the creek, a tributary of the Amite River. Persons going to the plane
had to be careful not to step on the injured and dead who had been thrown or removed from
the aircraft. At first it was thought the ambulances could go around another direction to get
closer to the plane and avoid having to carry the victims across the creek. Later the decision
was made to carry them across the stream. Two Civil Defense workers at the scene said,
a sandbar was found crossing the stream and rescuers were able to carry stretchers
across it without wading the water, however, they had to walk for more than a mile
to get to the ambulances.