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 fuel consumption.

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 fuel.

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 please, sir!"

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.

Crew Information:

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 aircraft.

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.

Aircraft Information:

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.

Meteorological Information:

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 at impact.

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.

Survival Aspects:

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 fuel mixture.

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 servicing facilities.
6. There was no evidence of a fuel leak.
7. There was no fire after impact because little fuel remained in the aircraft's fuel system.
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 fire.
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.

Probable Cause:

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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