Mississippi unveils Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash monument

GILLSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Forty-two years after a plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd to their next sold-out show crashed in a Southwest Mississippi swamp, a monument to honor the band members and their crew who died will be unveiled near that fateful spot in Gillsburg.

The official unveiling is Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. about 400 yards from the actual crash site, which is difficult to navigate because of trees, vines and marsh. The memorial will sit on land donated by Dwain and Lola Easley on Easley Road, just off Hwy. 568. Dwain Easley was one of the rescuers that night.

The unveiling is free and open to the public. Pat Nelson, one of the organizers of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument Project, which has partnered with the Southwest Medical Foundation, has confirmations from several family members of those who perished in the crash. Judy Van Zant, widow of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, and Corrina Gaines, daughter of guitarist Steve Gaines and niece of backup singer Cassie Gaines, plan to attend the dedication.

Tickets are on sale now for a concert to be held Oct. 19 at Southwest Mississippi Community College in Summit.

Nuthin' Fancy, a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band from Florida will perform for an audience that includes crash survivors and their rescuers as well as medical personnel who helped save lives of those who were pulled from the wreckage.

"They are one of the better cover bands in the country," said Nelson.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. at the Fine Arts Building.

The monument that will be unveiled Oct. 20 was originally planned as a green marker from the Department of Archives and History or possibly a Blues Trail marker through the Mississippi Development Authority.

"We had an idea for a highway marker near the crash site on Hwy. 568. It would give fans something to see, touch, remember, and have a picture of when visiting the crash site," Nelson said.

As donations poured in, the group planning the memorial opted to go bigger.

What people will see in Amite County is a black granite marker that is 8 feet tall and 14 feet wide with steps leading up to the monument.

"Dave Pace and Kevin Laird of Brookhaven Monument designed it and laid it out, took what we gave them and made it into what it is," Nelson said. "They did a great job."

The information on the monument came from three Lynyrd Skynyrd scholars — all with Mississippi ties — who hail from Denver, Jacksonville, Florida, and Clarksdale.

"They wrote every word that is on there, went through 40 variations of what ought to fit on the thing, and we've got the pictures on the back of the band members," he said.

On the night of the crash, the band was on the third leg of its Street Survivors Tour. Their leased plane left Greenville, South Carolina, and was headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when it fell from the sky with 26 people on board. Six were killed and the others were seriously injured.

Another monument is in the works to be placed at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, whose staff treated the survivors. It will be dedicated in a few months, Nelson said.

Donations for the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument and the hospital monument are still accepted and remaining proceeds will go toward a contingency fund to be used for directional marking along the roads leading to the location of the crash site marker, and other related long term expenses, Nelson said.

To donate through GoFundMe search Lynyrd Skynyrd crash site marker. All donations of more than $15 receive a commemorative guitar pick.

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Information from: The Daily Leader, http://www.dailyleader.com