National Transportation Safety Board Considers Reopening Investigation of 1959 Plane Crash that Killed Buddy Holly…But Don’t Count on it

Saturday, March 07, 2015
Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson (AP photos)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is considering the possibility of reopening the investigation into the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson 56 years ago.


The predecessor to the NTSB, the Civil Aeronautics Board, ruled following the February 3, 1959, crash outside of Mason City, Iowa, that pilot Roger Peterson was responsible. It was determined he lost control of the plane due, in part, to spatial disorientation caused by poor weather conditions and his lack of experience with the aircraft’s flight instruments.


But a retired New England pilot, L.J. Coon, believes other issues may have played a role.


Coon has asked the NTSB to review his assertions, which include consideration of the weight and balance of the Beech Bonanza aircraft, its rate of climb and descent, fuel gauge readings and the possible absence of a passenger-side rudder pedal.


The NTSB responded to Coon’s request last month, saying they will spend the next two months considering his theories. “You have gotten our attention. Let us do our due diligence in order to give you a proper answer,” stated the letter sent to Coon from the agency’s Office of the Managing Director.


Following those two months of consideration, it can take another six months to a year for the NTSB to decide whether or not to grant the petition for reopening the investigation, according to Peggy Senzarino at the Mason City Globe Gazette.


But Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio reported that the “NTSB is nowhere near ready to reopen the investigation” and that the agency would only do so if Coon’s proposal contains new information not previously considered. “Little of Coon’s theory…is new,” he said.


The night before the crash, Holly, Valens and Richardson had performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The aircraft had been in flight for only four minutes when it crashed into a farm field five miles north of the municipal airport.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Federal Traffic Safety Board Considering Fresh Look At Buddy Holly Crash (by Peggy Senzarino, Mason City Globe Gazette)

NTSB Considers Reopening Buddy Holly Crash Case (by Mike Kilen, Des Moines Register)

Reopening the Buddy Holly Plane Crash Cause? Not Likely (by Bob Collins, Minnesota Public Radio)

Could New Investigation Clear Buddy Holly Pilot? (by Dana Larsen, Pilot-Tribune)

Full text of the Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report on the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (Fifties Web)


L J Coon 9 years ago
Ref: 'The Mason City Iowa accident 1959' The Reported Mason City Airport Weather February-3-1959 was... Measured Ceiling 3,000 - Sky Obscured - Visibility 6 miles - Temperature 18 degrees - Altimeter 29.86 - Wind Southwest 20 gust 30 " Not A Hollywood Snow Storm ". The Owner of N3794N and The FAA certified Tower Operator...Stood on a platform at the base of The Tower and witnessed The lights of N3794N "In A Slow Descent" less than 3 miles from The Mason City Airport, to the Northwest Visibility was reported as 6 miles Not A Hollywood Snow Storm. Remember...The Dwyer Flying Service was only certified by The FAA To fly VFR Chartered Flights ( Day and Night ) in 1959 So...This Departure / Flight was a VFR night flight with FAA Tower reported VFR weather conditions / 6 miles visibility. Pilot Roger Peterson was VFR day and night rated ( 128 hours of flight) in N3794N and he had some Instrument time. This was Pilot Roger peterson's Home base facility/Airport. This was a VFR night flight ( " Not A Hollywood Snow Storm " ) Pilot Roger Peterson...was in VFR night conditions for ' This Entire Flight '. The Flight of N3794N lasted 3.5 minutes from the point of departure, ( 800 AGL, with a 1 minute 6 seconds 750 foot per minute ' Slow Descent ' ) coming to a rest at 4.9 miles from The Mason City Airport and 7 miles from The community lights of Fertile . ( Fertile with 397 people / residences in 1959 Home of the 32nd Governor of Iowa ) The NTSB Petition includes but not limited to: Total Weight and Balance Fuel loaded Fuel gages Fuel amounts at wreckage site No mention of fuel period No mention of fuel danger for Investigators Outside temperature 18 degrees Who did the Weight and Balance Was the Weight and Balance done with the Late switch of new passengers 'Valens and Richardson'. Who Fueled the aircraft Where is The Fuel receipt. Who Loaded and secured 'The Baggage'. Location of Right Wing Passenger side (right side) Rudder Pedals ( were they removed for this Chartered Flight ) Aircraft 'Carburetor Induction Icing' in 1959 Did the Civil Aeronautics Board consider 'Carburetor Induction Icing' in this 1959 accident. How was The Carburetor Heat control/position found Addressed in The NTSB Petition but not limited to: a.Magneto switches were both in the "off" position. b.The attitude gyro indicator was stuck in a manner indicative of a 90-degree angle. c.The rate of climb indicator was stuck at 3,000-feet-per-minute descent. d.The airspeed indicator needle was stuck between 165-170 mph. e.The omni selector was positioned at 114.9, the frequency of the Mason City omni range. f.The course selector indicated a 360-degree course. "The fact that the aircraft struck the ground in a turn but with the nose lowered only slightly, indicates that some control was being effected at the time."

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