Fifty years ago, the world lost Jim Croce in a tragic plane crash. Today, we delve into the details surrounding the event that cut short the career of the singer-songwriter.
The Fateful Night of the Crash
On September 20, 1973, following a concert at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Jim Croce and five others boarded a chartered Beechcraft E18S plane. The group was headed to Sherman, Texas, for their next performance. However, mere moments after takeoff from the Natchitoches Regional Airport, the aircraft collided with a tree, resulting in the immediate loss of all on board.
Apart from Croce, those tragically killed in the crash included:
- Maury Muehleisen, Croce’s bandmate
- George Stevens, a comedian
- Kenneth D. Cortese, manager and booking agent
- Dennis Rast, road manager
- Robert N. Elliott, the plane’s pilot
The crash happened during Croce’s Life and Times tour, scheduled for 45 dates. They had been set to spend the night in Natchitoches but decided to depart early.
What Went Wrong?
Investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that impaired vision due to fog and physical strain on the pilot were potential contributors to the accident. Robert N. Elliott, the 57-year-old pilot, had run three miles from a motel to the airport prior to the flight.
Witnesses noted that Elliott appeared exhausted and disheveled upon arriving at the airport. He had run three miles to the airport from a motel prior to the flight. Elliott tried to call a taxi but ended up walking and running most of the way to the airport.
Another investigation mentioned the pilot’s decision to attempt a downwind takeoff in conditions of severe darkness, which possibly limited his use of visual references. The sum of these factors is believed to have culminated in the fatal crash.
Croce’s Legacy and the Aftermath
Croce was buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania.
At the time of his death, he was seeing an upswing in his music career. With chart-topping songs such as ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,’ ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,’ and ‘Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),’ Croce was fast establishing himself as a prominent figure in the music industry. He was also working on his third album, ‘I Got a Name.’
Despite his untimely demise, Croce’s impact on the world of music did not wane. The posthumous release of ‘I Got a Name’ achieved remarkable success, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Besides, ‘Time In a Bottle,’ a track from his second album, became a No. 1 hit in January 1974.