Calls to reopen probe into the Buddy Holly air crash on 'the day music died'

Rock 'n' roll singer-songwriter Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash in 1959. -- PHOTO: IMG
Rock 'n' roll singer-songwriter Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash in 1959. -- PHOTO: IMG

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States air accident investigators are reviewing a petition to reopen a probe into the February 1959 plane crash that killed rock 'n' roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson.

The iconic musicians and their 21-year-old pilot were killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza crashed soon after takeoff at night from Mason City, Iowa amid gusty wintery weather.

Rock music enthusiasts remember the tragedy as "the day the music died", a phrase immortalised by Don McLean in his 1971 hit American Pie. In a blog on Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) acknowledged receiving a petition asking it to go back on the September 1959 findings of the US government's Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).

In reviewing it, the federal agency said it would need to establish whether the petition contains new evidence or whether it proves that the original CAB findings were wrong.

"If the NTSB determines that this petition meets the criteria, then we will examine any new evidence presented and determine its merit," it said.

The petition was submitted by L.J. Coon, a musician and pilot in Boston who told AFP by e-mail that he was "extremely pleased" that it was going forward.

The CAB - the precursor of today's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) - blamed the crash on the young pilot, Roger Peterson, who it said was not fully familiar with flying by instruments in poor weather.

The "probable cause" of the accident, it concluded, was "the pilot's unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely by instruments when he was not properly certified or qualified to do so".

Coon is challenging the findings on 12 points that include the distribution of weight in the four-seat, single-engine Bonanza and the possibility that its carburetor was clogged with ice.

"All of my efforts and the NTSB's investigation could possibly save the lives of today's and future pilots," he said.

Holly, who was 22, was a seminal figure in the early days of rock 'n' roll with hits such as That'll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and It Doesn't Matter Anymore. He was flying to a show in Fargo, North Dakota, with Valens, 17, best known for La Bamba, and Richardson, 28, famous for Chantilly Lace. Today, a jumbo replica of Holly's signature thick black glasses marks the spot where the red V-tail Bonanza crashed in a snow-covered farmer's field.