A Lynyrd Skynyrd Case Study in Safety

by Amanda Ball, MedFlight Safety Officer

 

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What can we learn from this rock band’s fatal plane crash?

While on their way to a show in 1977, the band’s chartered private plan ran out of fuel, and both engines failed… Causing a freefall from 4,500 ft cruising altitude.  Several on-board were killed on impact, including the band’s lead singer, shocking their friends, family, and fans… as well as the aviation industry.  What happened?  Why?  How?

The band’s management had advised that the plane they normally chartered was being replaced with a newer, more “trustworthy” aircraft after this concert.  But this concert was going to be a big one, and the pressure was on to be there.

 

BAND STATEMENTS PRIOR TO FLIGHT:
“The flames shooting out of the engine 2 days earlier didn’t make me very confident.”
“We were afraid to get on the plane, but didn’t know any better.”
“Something’s not right.”
“Aerosmith previously used this plane, and the pilots had questioned its flight worthiness.”
“I didn’t see the pilots check it out before they climbed in.”
AND FINALLY…
“Let’s go anyway, man.  We’ve got a gig to do.”

 

NTSB FINDINGS:
Inadequate fuel planning.
Aircraft was last checked 2 days prior to flight.
High, and unnoticed, fuel consumption by one of the engines during the flight.
Poor flight path planning prior to takeoff.
Continued flight with minimal fuel, overflying several airports with fuel resources.
Negligence or ignorance in regards to engine instruments.
Passengers entering and exiting cockpit.

 

SURVIVING BAND MEMBER STATEMENT AFTER THE CRASH:
“There were a lot of people on the plane that knew something was wrong, but we all kind of followed each other, and that’s where we made our mistake.”

 

There have been many speculations on what led to this incident… Pressure on the pilots to get the band to their destination, a rowdy culture that quite possibly caused distraction in the cockpit, lack of accountability in maintaining the plane’s airworthiness, and more.

 

Discuss with your transport team:  Do you see similarities to the pressures and challenges in our industry?  What factors may have played into this incident?  What measures does your organization have in place to enhance safe operations, reduce distraction, maintain vehicle quality and remove customer and financial pressure when reviewing transport requests?

 

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