NTSB ID: DCA78AA004
October 20, 1977 Convair 240 N55VM Serial # 3
Lynyard Skynyrd's Chartered Convair 240
Report released on June 19, 1978
About 18:55 CDT on October 20, 1977, Convair 240 N55VM Serial #3 owned
and operated by the L&J Company of Addision, TX and transporting the
Lynyrd Skynyrd Band from Greenville, SC to Baton Rouge, LA crashed five
miles northeast of Gillsburg, MS.
There were 24 passengers and 2 crew on board the aircraft. The 2 crew members
and 4 of the passengers were killed; 20 others were injured. The aircraft
was destroyed by impact; there was no fire.
The flight had reported to Houston Center that it was low on fuel and requested
radar vectors to McComb, MS. The aircraft crashed in a heavily wooded area
during an attempted emergency landing.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the probable
cause of this accident was fuel exhaustion and total loss of power from
both engines due to crew inattention to the fuel supply. Contributing to
the fuel exhaustion were inadequate flight planning and an engine malfunction
of undetermined nature in the engine which resulted in higher than normal
History of the Flight:
On October 20, 1977, the L&J Company Convair 240 registration (N55VM)
operated as a charter flight to transport the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band from
Greenville, SC to Baton Rouge, LA. The aircraft was owned by the L&J
Company of Addision, TX and the flight crew was employed by Falcon Aviation
of Addision. A lease agreement had been entered into by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Productions, Inc. and the L&J Company for the period October 11, 1977
to November 2, 1977.
At 05:30 local on October 18, 1977 N55VM had arrived at the Greenville,
SC downtown airport from Lakeland, FL. While on the ground at Greenville,
the aircraft had been refueled with 400 gallons of 100 octane low lead
On October 20, 1977 at 17:02 local, the flight had departed Greenville
Downtown Airport for Baton Rouge, LA. The pilot had filed an IFR flight
plan by phone with the Greenville Flight Service Station. The route of
flight was to be V20 Electric City, direct Atlanta, direct La Grango, direct
Hattiesburg V222 McComb, V194 direct Baton Rouge. The pilot requested an
altitude of 12,000 feet and stated that his time enroute would be 2 + 43
and that the aircraft had 5 hours of fuel on board. The pilot was also
given a weather briefing.
The flight was initially cleared as filed, except the pilot was told to
maintain 5,000 feet. Shortly after take-off, the flight was cleared to
8,000 and was asked to report when leaving 6,000. When the flight reported
leaving 6,000 it was issued a frequency change. The pilot did not adhere
to the 8,000' restriction and continued climbing to 12,000. The flight
was allowed to continue its climb to 12,000 and the clearance was so amended.
After reaching 12,000, N55VM proceeded according to flight plan and at
1839:50 was cleared to descend to and maintain 6,000. This clearance was
acknowledged. At 1840:15 the flight told Houston Center, "We're out
of one two thousand for six thousand." About 1842:00 the flight advised
Houston, "Yes sir, we need to get to an airport, the closest airport
you've got, sir!" Houston Center responded by asking the crew if they
were in an emergency status. The reply was, "Yes sir, we're low on
fuel and we're just about out of it, we want vectors to McComb, post haste
Houston Center gave the flight vectors to McComb and at 1842:55 advised
it to turn to a heading of 250 degrees. The flight did not confirm that
a turn was initiated until 1844:12. At 1844:34, the pilot of N55VM said,
"We are not declaring an emergency, but we do need to get close to
McComb as straight and good as we can get, sir!"
At 1845:12 the flight advised Houston Center, 55 Victor Mike, we're out
of fuel!" Center replied, "Roger, understand you're out of fuel?"
The flight replied, "I'm sorry, it's just an indication of it."
The crew did not explain what that indication was. At 1845:47 Houston Center
requested the flight's altitude. The response was, "We're at four
point five." That was the last recorded communication between N55VM
and Houston Center. Several attempts were made by Houston Center to contact
the flight but there was no response. At 1855:51 another aircraft reported
picking up a weak transmission from an (ELT) emergency locator transmitter.
The aircraft had crashed in heavily wooded terrain, during twilight hours
at an elevation of 310 feet and at latitude 310 04' 19" and longitude
990 35" 57" near the town of Gillsburg, MS.
Damage to Aircraft:
The aircraft was completely destroyed. Only the engines were recognizable.
Captain Walter W. McCreary, aged 34, held a first class medical certificate
dated September 19, 1977, with no waivers or restrictions. He also held
an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate #1804920, dated September 12, 1977
with type ratings in the DC-3, Convair 240, 340, and 440 aircraft. He had
accrued a total of 6,801 flight hours, 68 of which were in the Convair
First Officer William J. Gray, Jr., aged 32, held a second class medical
certificate dated December 30, 1976, with the restriction that the holder
shall wear correcting lenses or glasses while exercising the privileges
of his airman's certificate. He also held a Commercial Pilot Certificate
#75224, issued March 4, 1976, with airplane single & multi engine land
and instrument ratings. He had accrued 2,362 flight hours, 38 of which
were in the Convair aircraft.
N55VM was purchased by the L&J Company in April 1977. The aircraft
was manufactured in 1948 and originally delivered to Western Airlines on
December 30, 1948 and registered NC8401H. The aircraft had gone through
many owners before being purchased by the L&J Company and had accumulated
at total of 29,013.6 flight hours. The aircraft was certificated and equipped
in accordance with current regulations and procedures and was not equipped
with either a flight data or cockpit voice recorder, nor were they required.
At 1855, the weather at McComb, MS was 5,000 scattered, 12,000 scattered,
25,000 thin broken, visibility 15 miles, surface temperature 62 F dewpoint
55 F, wind calm, altimeter 30.12".
At 1900, the winds aloft observation at 12,000 for Athens, GA was 330 at
10kts; Centerville, AL 310 at 15kts; and at Jackson, MS was 320 at 6kts.
The observations at Athens, Centerville and Jackson showed dry air at 12,000
and below. The temperature at Athens & Centerville at 12,000 was 0
C, 9 C warmer than (ISA) temperature. The temperature at Jackson at 12,000
was 1 C, 8 C warmer than (ISA).
Aids to Navigation:
The localizer had been out of service for several months and was transmitting
without identification. A (NOTAM) Notice to Airmen, had been in effect
and been issued. The outer marker, a NDB, Non-Directional Beacon, was out
of service and was not transmitting at the time of the accident.
Communications & Ground Facilities:
Communication between N55VM and any facility contacted were not a factor
in this accident. The McComb County Airport was the closest facility available
to N55VM when the pilot asked for vectors to the closest airport. Runway
15/33 is 5000 feet long. Runway 15 is equipped with medium intensity runway
lights, a medium intensity approach lighting system, sequence flashers
and abbreviated approach slope indicators. Runway 33 is similarly equipped
except it does not have an approach lighting system and sequence flashers.
The runway lights and rotating beacon were controlled by a light sensitive
photo cell. It could not be determined if the runway lights were on the
night of the accident. However, two days later, the lights were monitored
and they illuminated at 1822 local time.
The aircraft crashed in a heavily wooded area. The decent angle through the trees was about 5 degrees initially. The angle steepened after the aircraft hit the second tree and continued the steeper angle until it hit the ground. The wreckage path was about 495 feet long. Trees as high as 80 feet and as large as 3 feet in diameter were struck during the final 300 feet of flight. The left horizontal stabilizer and the outboard section of both wings were torn from the aircraft and found 100 feet from the main wreckage along the wreckage path. The right outboard wing panel separated from the aircraft after initial contact with the trees. The left horizontal stabilizer and left outboard wing panel also struck trees separated along the wreckage path. The wreckage distribution was on a magnetic heading of 120 degrees. The fuselage continued forward on that heading and came to rest about 140 feet from the point of initial impact. The fuselage separated forward of the bottom leading edge of the vertical stabilizer. The center wing and engine nacelles were twisted to the left of the forward fuselage. The cockpit structure was crushed against trees. Cabin seats separated during the impact. All of the fuel crossfeed and fuel dump valves were in the closed position. Both fuel tank filler caps were in place. Fuel tank selector valves were in the closed position.
Both engines remained within their nacelles; the left propeller separated
from the engine, while the right propeller remained attached. The propeller
blades were not extensively damaged.
The cylinder heads and most of the accessories of both engines remained
intact, attached and undamaged. The cooling fins on several cylinders had
been damaged slightly.
The spark plugs of both engines were intact and generally undamaged. The
spark plug electrodes were not damaged nor did they bear any evidence of
a combustion chamber malfunction. The carburetor fuel strainers of both
engines were free of contamination; no entrapped or pressurized fuel was
found in either carburetor. The landing gear and flaps were retracted.
Both landing lights were in the retracted position.
Medical & Pathological Information:
Post mortem examinations of the flight crew and passengers were made to
determine cause of death and to identify types of injuries. Toxicological
examination of the flight crew disclosed no evidence of drugs, alcohol
or elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the blood. Both flight crew members
and the four passengers died as a result of traumatic injuries sustained
All surviving passengers were hospitalized. Most of the passengers received
multiple fractures and severe lacerations. However, three passengers received
only contusions and abrasions. Two of these passengers were hospitalized
over 48 hours and were, therefore, listed as seriously injured.
Warning was given to the passengers before the crash landing. Most passengers
assumed the crash position after being told by a flight crew member that
an emergency landing was imminent.
The accident was survivable for passengers in the cabin because there was
no fire and some sections of the fuselage retained their integrity during
impact. However, other sections, particularly the cockpit area, sustained
massive impact deformation. No fire erupted during the crash sequence because
there was no fuel in the wing tanks when the wing sections separated from
the main structure. Survival was also enhanced by the six medical doctors
and 20 corpsman and emergency medical technicians at the crash site who
diagnosed, treated and helped stabilize crash victims during the evacuation
and en route to hospitals.
The flight crew was properly certificated and trained in accordance with
applicable regulations. There was no evidence of pre-existing medical problems
that might have affected the flight crew's performance.
The aircraft was certificated and equipped in accordance with applicable regulations. The gross weight and c.g. were within prescribed limits. The aircraft structure and components were not factors in this accident. There was no evidence of any malfunction of the aircraft or its control system. The propulsion system was operating and was producing power until fuel was exhausted. The right engine had been malfunctioning for some time and caused the flight crew to operate the engine on auto-rich mixture during the accident flight and during previous flights in order to obtain an acceptable level of performance.
Although examination of the engine and its components did not identify
the exact discrepancy, the NTSB believes that the discrepancy was of a
general nature, such as an ignition or induction problem, and was not a
major mechanical failure. Components of the right engines ignition system
were so badly damaged by impact that engine to distributor timing could
not be determined. Consequently, the post impact condition of the ignition
system could not be determined from the evidence available.
Based on wreckage examination, the NTSB concludes that both engines ceased
producing power because of fuel exhaustion. A total of one quart of fuel
was recovered from both engines. Evidence obtained from the fuel quantity
gages indicates that both fuel tanks were empty at the time of impact.
According to the best estimates, the aircraft should have had about 207
gallons of fuel on board at the time of the accident. This figure is based
on a normal cruise configuration with both engines operating with auto-lean
According to the NTSB the crew was either negligent or ignorant, of the
increased fuel consumption because they failed to monitor adequately the
engine instruments for fuel flow and fuel quantity. Had they properly monitored
their fuel supply and noted excessive fuel consumption early in the flight,
they could have planned an alternate refueling stop rather than attempting
to continue flight with minimum fuel. In addition, the NTSB believes that
the pilot was not prudent when he continued the flight with a known engine
discrepancy and did not have it corrected before he left Greenville.
1. Both engines of N55VM ceased to produce power because the aircraft's
useable fuel supply was exhausted.
2. The crew failed to monitor adequately the fuel flow, en route fuel consumption
and fuel quantity gages.
3. The crew failed the take appropriate preflight and maintenance action to assure an adequate fuel supply for the flight.
4. The crew operated the aircraft for an indeterminate amount of time before
the accident with the right engine's mixture control in the auto rich position.
5. There were no discernible discrepancies between the amounts of fuel
added to the aircraft and the amounts shown on the fuel receipts from the
6. There was no evidence of a fuel leak.
7. There was no fire after impact because little fuel remained in the aircraft's
8. The survival of many passengers was due to the lack of severe impact
deformation in the center of the fuselage and the absence of a postcrash
9. The provisions of the lease intended to satisfy the requirement for
a truth in leasing clause did not result in this lessee having an adequate
understanding as to who was the operator of this flight and what that means.
The NTSB determines that the probable cause of this accident was fuel exhaustion
and total loss of power on both engines due to crew inattention to the
fuel supply. Contributing to the fuel exhaustion were inadequate flight
planning and an engine malfunction of undetermined nature in the right
engine which resulted in higher than normal fuel consumption.
Artimus Pyle Band
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