Bad Flying Weather…. Probably ice that quickly formed on the winshield of the beautiful Beechcraft Bonanza on a very dark night and a pilot who made a series of dumb decisions. The February 3, 1959 accident should not have happened. It happened 60 years ago. It’s important to know what happened.
Why did it happen? Bad weather; an inadequate weather report by the FAA; an overloaded aircraft and a stupid pilot perhaps aided by the star power of Buddy Holly who wanted to get to his next performance in time to get a good night’s rest knowing he was where his next performance was scheduled.
The Beech Bonanza took off, made a u-turn in the direction of Morehead, Minnesota and flew beautifully right into the ground, just as it was supposed to do as the pilot was unaware of what should have been done but wasn’t. Perhaps there was ice forming which the pilot didn’t expect. Maybe there was turbulence, maybe severe turbulence which makes it a bit harder to use the instruments and make no mistake, this was a flight that could only be made using instruments. The plane would have been impossible to fly without using the instruments. The pilot really screwed up. A better pilot, a competant pilot could have made the flight without problems but the pilot wasn’t competant to fly that airplane that night under those conditions.
A accurate weather report should have been obtained by the pilot but there is considerable evidence that it wasn’t completely made available to him. That means flying into the unexpected bad weather was partly caused by the FAA, the arm of the U.S. government that is responsible to get weather information to pilots.
The beautiful Beech Bonanza N3794N was likely overloaded at takeoff. Most likely tail-heavy with full fuel, (444 pounds), four adult males in winter clothes, (650 pounds) and a full baggage compartment (probably 150 pounds) for a total weight of 444 + 650 + 150 = 1,244 pounds, perhaps 200 pounds overloaded, … and tail heavy. The Bonanza can fly when it’s 200 pounds overloaded. The pilot may have figured the 306 mile flight would burn maybe 200 pounds of fuel and would not be overloaded when landing.
What do we know about the accident? It happened right after takeoff. The owner of the Bonanza was watching as the plane took off and minutes later he watched the red tailight move slowly back to earth. How many things went wrong? Overloaded airplane; tail-heavy airplane; ice forming on the windshield, very dark night; not many lights visible on the ground; a pilot who did not want to dissapoint a major star; an inaccurate, inadequate weather report. Read the FAA report HERE but be aware that it was written by the government so it doesn’t dwell on the responsibility of the government for the inability of the pilot to have been given an accurate weather report. Another report is HERE.
The pilot should have said flying that night was too dangerous. He should have said he would take them in the morning when the weather would be much better and told them to get a good night’s sleep, that they would fly the next day. But he didn’t. It comes back to the pilot who should not have made the flight.