February 3, 1959-The Day the Music Died

Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens

This coming week marks the 52nd anniversary of one of the entertainment world’s most infamous plane crashes. Bonanzas are stout aircraft, but intolerant of inexperienced, careless, or ham-fisted pilots. One particular Beech Bonanza, a straight Model-35 V-tail version with CAA registration number N3794N, will forever be remembered. This was the aircraft that carried rock-n-roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the “Big Bopper” to their death in a corn field on February 3rd, 1959. 

The Civil Aeronautics Board ultimately blamed poor weather and pilot error for the crash.

A non-instrument rated commercial pilot, an employee of Dwyer’s Flying Service, was at the controls. He was 21 years old and not qualified to fly in the weather. He was flying the group to their next gig after mechanical issues with their tour bus. The pilot lost control of the aircraft late at night in a snow storm and plowed into a snow-covered field not far from the departure airport. This accident has since become known as The Day the Music Died

These entertainers were popular before my time, so my interest is more in the aircraft they were in, because it was a V tail Bonanza, and the circumstances under which it crashed. The flight was planned from Mason City, Iowa (KMCW) to Fargo, ND (KFAR), 269 nm northwest. The group departed about 1AM, but never made it more than a few miles before crashing. The charter fare for each passenger was $36. Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on this flight, but gave his seat up at the last minute.

If you are ever in Iowa, the crash site is in a corn field, about a half-mile from the corner of Gull Ave and 333rd Street. This is about 3 miles north of Clear Lake, IA, off  Interstate I-35. Look for the big pair of black glasses.

There is an internet rumor floating around in the ether that the wreckage of Bonanza N3794N is still owned by the heirs of Dwyer’s Flying Service, locked up somewhere, and not available for sale or viewing.

N3794N panel, typically equipped for its day


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