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Members of Montana Band Killed in Plane Crash

July 6, 1987 GMT

LAKESIDE, Mont. (AP) _ A twin-engine plane that crashed and burned near a popular resort at Flathead Lake in western Montana killed all 10 people on board, including the members of a popular bluegrass band, authorities said.

All five members of The Montana Band died when the Beechcraft plane went down Saturday night, along with the group’s road manager, sound manager, the plane’s pilot and a female friend of his and the 12-year-old son of a band member, said the Flathead County sheriff’s office.

Some witnesses said they saw an airplane ″buzzing″ the lake shortly before the crash. Federal Aviation Administration investigator Don Paul said, ″We believe it was the same one (plane), but we haven’t confirmed that yet.″

″They buzzed one of the boats on the lake. It looked like they knew somebody in the boat. They came over low and waggled their wings,″ said one witness, Virgil Deppmeier of Los Altos, Calif.

Corky Derby, a spokeswoman for the Flathead County sheriff’s office, confirmed that incidents of airplane ″buzzing″ were reported Saturday afternoon and later in the evening.

The band, based in Reno, Nev., had become popular among country music fans since winning the country division of the Willie Nelson Music Invitational last year in Austin, Texas.

The group never had a national hit, but recorded four albums and made numerous appearances on television. They had played the Reno-Tahoe casino showroom circuit for more than a decade, as well as colleges, nightclubs, state fairs and rodeos across the country.

Art Long, publicity director for John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nev., where the group played 22 times since 1980, said the group was one of the most popular acts ever to play the casino.

″They were only a step away from the main showrooms and from the big-time with groups like Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys,″ Long said. ″We’re very saddened because the guys had exceptional talent and personalities. ″

A spokeswoman said the band had played a private engagement at Lakeside and taken off from the Kalispell City Airport en route to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to play Saturday night in nearby Post Falls.

The plane went down 12-15 miles south of the airport just after 8 p.m., said Corky Derby, information officer for the sheriff’s office.

It hit the top of pine trees 20 yards away from U.S. 93, tearing off a portion of the tail section and then cut a burning swath through trees before plowing into an apple orchard. Musical instruments were scattered around the wreckage.

″I could see the plane coming up over the house,″ said Dellivan Thornton, who saw the crash from about a half-mile away. ″She was coming real low and made a curve and then she just went down and hit between two trees.″

Two investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration office in Helena were on the scene Sunday morning, and Derby said officials from the National Transportation Safety Board office in Denver were expected later in the day.

Gene Holliday, who lives nearby, said he saw the plane come in off Flathead Lake and go into a roll.

″I saw the angle and knew it was going in,″ Holliday said. He said the engines sounded as if they stalled.

Derby said witnesses who saw the plane crash had varying accounts of what occurred moments before impact and the ensuing fire. ″Everybody saw something different,″ she said.

″There were so many eyewitnesses. ... The lake was full of people″ boating on the Fourth of July, she said.

The victims were identified as pilot Joe Taylor of Athol, Idaho, his friend Jean Bernadine Lemery of Coeur d’Alene; 12-year-old Dallas Tipton, son of band member Clifford Tipton of Reno, Nev., who also was killed; sound manager Dale Anderson, Fort Benton; and band manager Tom Sawan of Missoula. The other band members were identified as Kurt Bergeron, Spokane, Wash.; Allan Larson, Tulsa, Okla.; Grady Whitfield, Salt Lake City; and Terry Robinson, Whitefish.

The bodies were burned beyond recognition and ages were unavailable, Derby said. It was estimated that most of the victims were in their late 20s or early 30s.

Other entertainers killed in plane crashes included singer Rick Nelson, who had been featured with his family on the long-running TV series ″The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.″ Nelson, 45, and members of his Stone Canyon Band were killed in December 1985 when their DC-3 crash-landed near DeKalb, Texas.

Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. ″The Big Bopper″ Richardson were killed in 1959 when their plane crashed near Mason City, Iowa, en route to a show in Fargo, N.D.

Country star Patsy Cline was killed in 1963 in a crash near Camden, Tenn., and country singer Jim Reeves died the following year in a crash near Nashville, Tenn.

Rhythm and blues artist Otis Redding died in Wisconsin with members of his band in 1967. Rock star Jim Croce died in a 1973 crash near Natchitoches, La., and Ronnie Van Zant and some members of his Lynyrd Skynyrd band died in 1977 in a crash in McComb, Miss.