Celebrities Who Died In Plane Crashes

It's incredibly saddening when a celebrity dies young, and fans can't help but wonder what could have been if they were still around. What new music would artists like soul singer Amy Winehouse and rapper Mac Miller release if they didn't die before 30? What films would Heath Ledger or Paul Walker nab the lead roles for if they didn't leave us so soon? Tragic events like devastating car crashes to overdoses have resulted in way too many talents leaving the earth way before their time. 

There have also been a number of stars who boarded an aircraft not knowing they would never make it to their destination. From plane malfunctions to severe weather conditions to pilot error, these incidents show that tragedy can strike at any moment and with anyone, famous or not. Read on to learn which mega stars' lives were cut short after they died in plane crashes.

Buddy Holly

Don McLean's 1971 hit "American Pie" was inspired by the plane crash that killed 1950s rock star Buddy Holly. According to The New York Times, a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft Holly boarded crashed into a farm minutes after departing from Iowa's Mason City Airport in Iowa. Authorities blamed terrible weather for the crash. Holly was a rising star in the music industry with songs like "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be the Day" with his band, The Crickets. He died on February 3, 1959, at the age of 22.

Sadly, there were two other up-and-coming stars with Holly on board the plane. Ritchie Valens, a pioneer in rock and roll and popular disc jockey, J.P. Richardson, known as "The Big Bopper," were also killed. Valens was only 17, and Richardson was 24. The pilot was also killed in the crash. 

According to Rolling Stone, country music legend Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on that same flight but was asked by Richardson to give up his seat. So, Jennings rode on Holly's band's tour bus instead.

Patsy Cline

Country music star Patsy Cline was aboard a small plane bound for Nashville, Tennessee, after a performance in Kansas City, Kansas, when it crashed in a wooded area on March 5, 1963. Cline was 30 years old. According to The Tennessean, the plane was owned by Cline's manager, Randy Hughes, who piloted the plane. The Grand Ole Opry members "Cowboy" Lloyd Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins were also aboard. All four people died in the crash. 

The Tennessean reported that before trying to land at their final destination, the group stopped in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to refuel. Owners of the airport warned Hughes from flying as they would be going through severe weather. However, Hughes believed they would be okay since it was a short flight. The journey ended up being more treacherous than expected. According to the documentary "The Real Patsy Cline," "Because [Hughes] was not an instrumented-rated pilot and relied on only on visual contact with the ground, he was unable to navigate through the dense storm clouds." About 20 minutes after they left Dyersburg Regional Airport, the aircraft crashed.

Rolling Stone reported that one of the last songs Cline recorded before her death was  "Sweet Dreams," which became a Top 10 Hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. 

Otis Redding

Soul legend Otis Redding's classic song "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" became a massive success upon its release in 1968 and would become Redding's first number-one hit. But sadly, Redding would never enjoy his accomplishment as he died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. Redding was just 26 years old. 

According to Redding's website, the singer was flying in a private plane he had purchased when it crashed into a lake in Madison, Wisconsin. Rolling Stone reported that he was only four miles away from the Madison Municipal Airport when it hit the surface of a lake and crashed with heavy force. A video from the Wisconsin Historical Society captured a crane lifting Redding's wrecked plane from Lake Monona as divers searched the waters. According to Jet, four members of the Bar-Kays band, their valet, and the pilot also died. Ben Cauley, a trumpeter for the Bar-Kays was the only survivor. The cause of the crash was never determined.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd faced tragedy when their plane crashed on October 20, 1977. The crash killed lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, singer Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and the plane's pilot and co-pilot. However, 20 people onboard managed to survive, per Rolling Stone. According to the aircraft's accident report, the plane was flying out from Greenville, South Carolina, and was bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when it crashed into a wooded area of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The report stated that the plane had run out of fuel and needed to attempt an emergency landing. 

In a VH1 "Behind the Music" special, plane crash survivors pianist Billy Powell, drummer Artimus Pyle, and guitarist Gary Rossington recalled initial fears about boarding the plane because of its old age and issues with the engines. Just 80 miles from their destination, both engines gave out as the pilot tried to land the plane on its belly. Unfortunately, the aircraft went down too fast and began hitting the tops of trees until it eventually crashed and shattered into pieces. Powell shared, "It felt like being in a solid steel garbage can rolling down a hill, hit with a hundred baseball bats, head, body, ankles, you name it." Pyle, also very hurt, managed to get out of the wreckage and call for help.

According to History, Aerosmith was considering using the plane for themselves that same year, but it was believed to be unfit after an inspection of the crew.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

One of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessett-Kennedy's last public appearances occurred at the White House Correspondents dinner, in May 1999. A photo showed Kennedy Jr. embracing his wife and kissing her on the cheek. Two months later, the son of slain President John F. Kennedy, his wife, and her sister Lauren Bessette were tragically killed when Kennedy's plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, on July 16, 1999. 

According to People, the group departed on Kennedy's plane from New Jersey and were headed to Martha's Vineyard Airport in Massachusetts when, at around 9:40 p.m., the aircraft crashed into the ocean. Biography noted that Kennedy acquired his pilot's license a year before. As per The Washington Post, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the crash was due to pilot error and bad weather, stating that the plane went down because of Kennedy's "failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation."

According to The Washington Post, it was believed that the plane was first missing as the flight plan was not established, making it harder to find its whereabouts. However, the plane and bodies of Kennedy Jr, his wife, and his sister-in-law were later located on July 21. 

John Denver

John Denver is remembered for his 1970s hits like "Take Me Home, Country Road," "Rocky Mountain High," and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." Besides having a love for music, Denver was also an avid pilot. According to Francesca Peppiatt's "Country Music's Most Wanted," Denver's father, an air force test pilot, taught him how to fly planes. Denver died at 53 when his experimental aircraft crashed into Monterey Bay, California, on October, 12, 1997, per the AP

Prior to his death, Denver's pilot license had been suspended due to drunk driving charges. No traces of alcohol or drugs were found in his system following the accident. Per the Los Angeles Times, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, it's believed that the factors that led to Denver's crash included low fuel and an inability to reach for a handle that would allow the musician to switch fuel tanks. He was the only person inside the airplane when it crashed.

Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates until his untimely death in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. He was 38. Before his death, Clemente was a two-time World Series champion and was named the World Series MVP following the team's second World Series win against the Baltimore Orioles in 1971. 

Clemente also made time for humanitarian work outside his prolific baseball career. According to History, Clemente was known for helping underprivileged youth, especially in his homeland of Puerto Rico, offering baseball clinics and teaching children more than just the rules of the game. Paul Finkleman, the author of "Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: I-T," quoted Clemente saying, "I am from the poor people. I represent the poor people. I like workers. I like people that suffer because these people have a different approach to life from the people that have everything."

According to The New York Times, the baseball star's life was cut short when he boarded a plane bound for Nicaragua to deliver supplies to those affected by an earthquake in 1972. The plane crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff from Puerto Rico with Clemente and three others onboard. The Roberto Clemente Foundation stated that the plane was overloaded, with a wrongful death suit filed by Clemente's wife, Vera Zabala Clemente, stating that the plane experienced engine failure before it went down. 

Jim Croce

Jim Croce scored a No.1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart when he released his song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" in 1973. Sadly, it would be the only No. 1 hit he would get to celebrate before he died on September 30 of that year at the age of 30. 

According to Rolling Stone, Croce and five others, which included guitarist Maury Muehleisen, road manager Morgan Tell, comedian George Stevens, a booking agent, and the pilot, were killed when their plane hit a tree and crashed after taking off from Natchitoches, Louisiana. The group was heading to Texas for a performance with deputy Walter Braxton stating, "It was a single-engine plane, I believe. It was taking off, and it did not get any altitude." An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the pilot could not see through the thick fog that day. In addition, the pilot had severe coronary artery disease, with The Montreal Gazette stating that lawyers for the pilot believed he suffered a heart attack, which Croce's wife and family disputed.

After his death, Croce's song "Time in a Bottle" reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts, making it his second and last No. 1 hit. 

Jenni Rivera

Jenni Rivera was an influential Mexican-American banda singer. Sadly, her life was taken too soon when she died in a plane crash, along with six others, near Monterrey, Mexico, on December 9, 2012. Rivera was 43 years old.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the "Basta Ya" songstress had given what would be her final performance at Arena Monterrey when she boarded her plane at around 3 a.m. with her team, which included a makeup artist, hair stylist, her lawyer, and a publicist. The group had plans to travel to Toluca, Mexico, where Rivera was to appear on "La Voz... Mexico." However, contact with the pilot was lost ten minutes into the flight. The plane's wreckage was found near Iturbide, Mexico. Everyone on the aircraft died in the crash.

As per Billboard, there was speculation about why the plane went down by the Mexican General Civil Aviation Administration, including the conditions of the plane, with it being over 43 years old, and the ages of the pilot and co-pilot. The pilot, who was 78, was reportedly not allowed to fly a plane of that weight. His co-pilot was 21 and allegedly not licensed to fly outside the U.S. The Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil of Mexico concluded there was a loss of flight control for undetermined reasons.

Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves was known as a country star, but his baritone voice and musical stylings appealed to both pop and gospel fans throughout the '50s and '60s. As historian Larry Jordan recalled to Billboard, "When he became successful, and he had the freedom to experiment, he began gravitating toward the pop world. He was uniquely in his own category, and as a vocalist was in a league with the best crooners of the twentieth century like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Buddy Clark – who was his idol. He was in that league."

According to The New York Times, Reeves was flying his single-engine plane bound for Nashville, Tennessee, when it crashed in a wooded area near the city on July 31, 1964. Reeves was 39 years old. The country artist was also with his pianist Dean Manuel, who died in the crash. Jordan, who wrote "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story," detailed the crash and shared that Reeves was flying during a thunderstorm and lost visual reference. Sadly, the singer made the mistake of flying into more stormy weather and did not level his wings as he made a crucial turn. He crashed within seconds. 

After his death, Reeves was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967.

Randy Rhoads

After rocker Ozzy Osbourne was ousted from Black Sabbath in 1979, it wasn't long before he found success as a solo star and gained an incredible guitarist named Randy Rhoads. Ozzy later told A&E (via Biography), "I knew instinctively that he was something extra special. He was like a gift from God – we worked so well together. Randy and I were like a team." Rhoads played guitar for Osbourne's first two records as a solo act: 1980's "Blizzard of Ozz" and 1981's "Diary of a Madman."

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's accident report, Osbourne's tour bus driver Andrew Aycock stole an aircraft while the band was in Leesburg, Florida, for a joyride on March 19, 1982. Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood accompanied Aycock aboard a second flight when the plane's wing hit the tour bus, hit a tree, and ultimately crashed into a home, where it caught on fire. All three people died on the plane. Rhoads was 25.

Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy's wife, was on the tour bus and wrote about the devastating crash in her autobiography, "Sharon Osbourne Extreme." "When Ozzy got back from getting this old man out of the house, we clung to each other, and we were just screaming and weeping and shaking, and we just couldn't put all the pieces together and make one good picture, because everybody was in shock," she shared. 

Troy Gentry

Singer Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery made up the country music duo Montgomery Gentry and scored numerous hits like "If You Ever Stop Loving Me," "Something to be Proud Of," and "Roll with Me." According to NBC News, on September 8, 2017, the men were set to perform a show at an airport resort in New Jersey when Gentry decided to board a helicopter before they were to hit the stage. Unfortunately, Gentry would not know that it would be his last day on earth; the helicopter crashed in a wooded area killing the singer and the pilot. Gentry was 50 years old.

Per NBC News, the National Transportation Safety Board would later reveal that the cause of the crash was due to pilot error. As soon as the helicopter took off, the pilot reported engine problems and decided to perform an autorotation. Describing the action, Plane and Pilot reported that instead of starting the autorotation below the runway, the pilot cut the engine too soon over a wooded area. In a statement, the NTSB said, "The pilot's early entry into and failure to maintain rotor rpm during a forced landing autorotation after performing an engine shutdown in flight, which resulted in an uncontrolled descent."

According to the Tennessean, Montgomery continued to perform under the band's name despite Gentry's death. 

Aaliyah

Aaliyah Dana Haughton, or simply Aaliyah, was an R&B sensation in the late '90s and early 2000s. Her songs like "Are You That Somebody?" and "Try Again" earned her the nickname the "Princess of R&B," and by the age of 22, she already had three successful albums. On top of that, Aaliyah showcased her acting chops in "Romeo Must Die."

Aaliyah's life was taken too soon when she was killed in a plane crash on August 25, 2001. According to The New York Times, the songstress and eight others boarded a small plane from the Bahamas' Abaco Islands after they wrapped up the music video for "Rock The Boat." The group was bound for Miami, Florida, when their plane crashed immediately after taking off from Marsh Harbour Airport, killing everyone on board. CNN reported that the aircraft was heavily overloaded, which resulted in the plane crash. In addition, The New York Times reported traces of cocaine and alcohol in the pilot's system. 

Aaliyah had her final film role in 2002's "Queen of the Damned," which she had finished shooting before her untimely death, per ET. According to Billboard, a posthumous album featuring artists like Drake and Chris Brown was coming out in January 2022. However, as of this writing, it has not been released.

Kobe Bryant

The world mourned the loss of a sports icon when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, in Calabasas, California. Among those with Kobe were his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others. Everyone died in the crash. 

As noted in the Daily Mail, The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the pilot, Aya Zobayan, neglected federal safety guidelines and was not qualified to fly in foggy weather conditions with low visibility. Zobayan lost his sense of direction due to spatial disorientation, a phenomenon in aviation that is commonly referred to as "the leans," and crashed into the side of a hill. There were no survivors.

Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant, later sued Los Angeles County for emotional distress over claims that police and firefighters on the scene had taken photographs of the wreckage, including photos of the remains of Kobe and their daughter, and had shared them. In August 2022, Vanessa was awarded $16 million, per NPR.