The story is tragic, the loss resounding. But how well do you know the story behind the 1963 plane crash that shocked the music community and lost three country music stars and one pilot their lives. It’s a harrowing tale that we’re pretty sure you don’t know the whole of…
It was March 5th, 1963 when country music took a hard hit in the heart. After performing at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkings and Randy Hughes were headed towards the Cornelia Fort Airpark in Nashville, Tennessee.
The concert had been on the 3rd, but a sick Cline had decided to postpone their departure for her health. Pilot Randy Hughes was not trained in instrument flying but had been tapped for the flight after regular pilot Billy Walker was called away on a family emergency. When Patsy was asked to join her husband for the sixteen-hour drive to Music City, she declined, famously stating, "Don't worry about me, Hoss. When it's my time to go, it's my time."
They boarded a Piper PA-24 Comanche plane, refueling in Missouri and stopping once in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The weather was rough, and the passengers were encouraged to stay the night instead of venturing into the raging March storm. The pilot declined, stating, "I've already come this far. We'll be there before you know it." The plane crashed just outside of Camden, Tennessee.
The pilot was trained in VFR, "visual flight rules," that proved to be completely impossible in the rough rains. Since he was not instrument rated, he was unable to safely lead the flight home. After losing their signal, the Cornelia Fort Airpark kept their lights on all night, in hopes of finding the lost plane. The heartache was broadcast on the news and Tennesseans held on to the hope that survivors would be found in the morning.
It wasn't to be. When the flight was found, some ninety miles from Nashville, Cline's wristwatch had stopped at 6:20, supposedly close to the time the plane crashed nose-down in the Tennessee wilderness. There were no survivors.
You can find their memorial right outside Camden. It's marked by a large rock, a small natural area touched lightly by a plaque commemorating the crash. The spot is out in the woods, a lonely place amongst the trees. A haunting bit of history left to the swing of nature.
You won't find Patsy Cline in Tennessee, though - she was buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. Far from the harrowing last moments of her life.
That story gets us every time. Would you visit?