Details on the Buddy Holly Plane Crash of 1959

Buddy Holly's Plane Crash
Buddy Holly's plane crash site.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a private plane carrying musicians J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly (most famous for founding The Crickets) crashed outside of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all on board. Buddy Holly had chartered the flight to avoid harsh travel conditions of the tour bus from his gig in Clear Lake the night before to the next stop on the "Winter Dance Party" tour in North Dakota.

The Final Concert of Buddy Holly

On February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper played their last show as part of the "Winter Dance Party" tour, stopping this night at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA. The admission for the show was $1.25, but the concert did not sell out. The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" closed out the night.

After, the band began discussion of their next stop on the tour, Fargo, ND. After months on the winter tour in uncomfortable, drafty buses, the band members' health was waning. Holly pitched the idea to charter a four-person plane to their next stop.

When he learned that band member Waylon Jennings—who would eventually become a country star in his own right—had decided to take the freezing bus instead, Holly had joked, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings joked back, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." Another Holly band member, Tommy Allsup, flipped a coin with Valens for the last available seat, losing the coin toss. Valens exclaimed, "That's the first time I've won anything in my life!"

Chartered Flight Crash

Within minutes of takeoff from the Mason City Airport in Iowa at around 1:00 AM CST, February 3, 1959, the chartered Beech-Craft Bonanza airplane No. N3794N containing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson crashed into the Iowa countryside, killing all three in addition to pilot Roger Peterson. Peterson, not having been informed of worsening weather conditions, decided to fly "on instruments" meaning without visual confirmation of the horizon which led to the crash.

Buddy Holly's funeral was held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, TX, on February 8, 1959, drawing over a thousand mourners. Holly's widow did not attend. On the same day, Ritchie Valens was buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery. The tragedy was later immortalized as "The Day The Music Died" by Don McLean in his famous song "American Pie."

Holly's band, The Crickets, later memorialized the day in 2016 with a farewell and final concert called "The Crickets and Buddies," where almost every living member of the band Holly helped form played tribute to the vocal legend's passing.