Feb 3rd, 1959.
It had been a miserable tour, riding a bus through the Midwest in the winter. The bus' heater broke down almost as much as the bus itself. Temps were -25 to -40 degrees, the cold bitter and invasive. A drummer lost toes to the winter and frost bite caused by the dying bus heater. Tired of the numbing, depressing cold and of not having clean clothes, (many of the artists lost their change of clothing when the bus was broken into) tour headliner Buddy Holly decided to charter a plane for himself and his band, consisting of his friend from Texas, Waylon Jennings playing bass and Tommy Allsup on guitar. They weren't the original Crickets but they were friends and solid pickers, of solid enough. In fact, Jennings had never played the bass before the tour, but Buddy was a friend and he couldn't say no.
Holly had broken from his former manager Norman Petty, walking away while the original Crickets had stayed. The reason why Buddy was on the tour was that former manager was withholding payments from what was supposed to be an account holding royalties and tour payments for the entire band. Much of the money Buddy Holly and the Crickets earned was deposited into this account, but Petty has manager had control of it. When Buddy started questioning where the funds were going, Petty shut him out, refusing him any money. Buddy left. With a move to New York and a new and pregnant wife, Holly needed that cash.
With the cold affecting everyone, the seats on the charted plane became sought after prizes to the other performers on the tour. Soon the Big Bopper, complaining of a cold got Waylon's seat, and Richie Valens continually pestered Allsup for his seat.
Finally, just before departing, Allsup and Richie flipped for it. Richie won.
As Buddy was getting ready to leave after the show, he and Waylon got to poking each other over the bus/plane and the fact Waylon elected to stay on the broken bus and not take Buddy up on his generous offer of a nice, warm plane seat. “I hope your 'ol bus freezes up.” Buddy said. Waylon fired back 'Well, I hope your 'ol plane crashes!" He never forgave himself the remark.
The plane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa heading to Fargo, ND with Roger Peterson, 21 of Clear Lake at the controls. Peterson was cleared to fly in clear weather by visual. Almost as soon as they took off, they ran into snow and he was forced to rely on instruments. There had been a flash weather alert, but the Clear Lake tower had neglected to tell Roger of it. Misreading the altimeter, he thought they were ascending. They weren't. He flew the plane steadily, slowly into the ground. They probably had no idea in the whiteout conditions until they hit the ground.
The plane crashed within five miles and five minutes of takeoff. It was found the next morning at 5:30 AM by Peterson’s boss, Hubert Dywer, owner of Dywer Flight Service and the crumpled Beechwood Bonanza now furrowed into an Iowa cornfield. He had watched it take off, and then saw it turn and start to descend, it’s right wing dipping towards the ground. He shrugged it as a trick of the light, the curvature of the earth, but still tried to get Roger on the radio. All he got was silence. When Fargo told him the plane never arrived, he got into his car and retraced the flight. He found it within minutes. The dipping right wing had hit the ground and the plane pinwheeled into the ground, ending as a crumpled ball against a barb wired fence. Big Bopper was thrown across the fence nearly a hundred feet, Buddy and Richie lay close to the wreckage, Peterson was pinned inside. All had died on impact.
In the years afterwords, Jennings would write and record two songs about his good friend Buddy, and Tommy Allsup would be haunted by a coin flip he lost.
Today is the 60th anniversary of that last flight. Rest in peace Buddy, Richie, J.P and Roger.