Singer Ricky Nelson, Fiance, Band Members On Fatal Flight
DE KALB, Texas (AP) _ Federal aviation investigators arrived today at the scene of a plane crash which killed singer Rick Nelson, who melted teen-age hearts a quarter-century ago as a member of ″The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet″ television show, and six others.
Nelson, 45, and his party, including his fiancee and five members of his band, were flying from Alabama to Dallas to perform in a New Year’s Eve concert when their plane caught fire and crashed Tuesday in a northeastern Texas pasture, authorities said.
The bodies were removed from the charred hull of the privately owned DC-3 early today and taken to Dallas for autopsies and positive identification, said Bowie County Sheriff Thomas Hodge.
Besides Nelson, the dead were identified as his fiance, Helen Blair, 27; and band members - Bobby Neal, 38; Patrick Woodward, 35; Rick Intveld, 22; Andy Chapin, 20, and Clark Russell, 35, who was the sound man.
The pilot and co-pilot survived and were hospitalized in Arkansas.
The accident occurred on the last day of the deadliest year ever in commercial aviation in which almost 2,000 people died, most of them in crashes of jet passenger planes.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Brad Dunbar said five officials, including NTSB Chairman Jim Burnett, arrived at the crash site about 13 miles from the Oklahoma border early today.
Witnesses said the propeller-driven plane appeared to catch fire and try an emergency landing in a pasture.
Helicopter pilot Don Ruggles said he heard a radio distress call about 5 p.m. which said the plane was flying at about 8,000 feet and having difficulty.
″He said smoke was filling the cockpit,″ Ruggles said. ″I watched the airplane descend to a very low altitude, and about 500 feet above the ground we started noticing smoke trailing the airplane.″
The plane clipped two electric power poles and came to rest in flames about 200 yards from a farmhouse. Ruggles landed nearby. ″We just simply couldn’t get to them because of the heat and the flames,″ he said.
″It was on fire when it came over me,″ said Don Lewis, a farmer who was feeding his cattle when the plane flew by. ″Smoke was just belching out of the right side.″
Pilot Brad Rank, 34, of the Los Angeles area, was in critical, but guarded condition at St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, Ark. with burns over the upper portion of his body, said nursing supervisor Glennette Spears.
Co-pilot Kenneth Ferguson, 40, who also suffered burns over the upper portion of his body, was transferred to the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, where he was listed in serious, but stable condition today.
Nelson’s manager, Greg McDonald, said late Tuesday he was calling relatives of people who were on the plane and consoling them.
″All we know is that Ricky and his band was on the plane,″ McDonald said, his voice breaking.
Greg Leach, a flight instructor at Guntersville Airport in Alabama, said Nelson and his band performed at PJ’s Lounge in Guntersville on Monday night and departed about 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Myles Leach, who oversees airport operations, said the aircraft was delayed by heavy fog.
Pat Upton, co-owner of PJ’s Lounge and former member of Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, said Nelson played in Guntersville as a favor. He said Nelson and Ms. Blair had been dating about three years and were recently engaged.
At the Park Suite Hotel in north Dallas, where Nelson was to have performed Tuesday night, about 100 people milled around in the lobby, some in white tuxedoes, after the crash was announced.
It was to be the 6-month-old hotel’s first New Year’s Eve celebration, with Nelson to appear in concert with other acts. Hotel officials called the night a tribute, but offered refunds to those who chose to leave. Many did.
Born Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, N.J., on May 8, 1940, he literally grew up on ″The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet″ television series, which featured his parents and brother David, and launched his musical career.
In 1957, Nelson first performed ″Teen-ager’s Romance,″ and ″I’m Walkin,‴ on the show. They became his first million-sellers.
From 1952 to 1966 Nelson went from a crew-cut 11-year-old to a real-life teen-age singing idol to a 25-year-old husband. All of Nelson’s early songs were featured on the TV show before the final episode in 1966.
His hit songs helped boost the show in the ratings with younger viewers during the later years of its run.