Bands That Were In Tragic Accidents While Touring

There's nothing quite like the excitement that comes with an announcement that a favorite band is going on tour. There's the initial thrill, checking out the venues, then crossing your fingers in hopes more tour dates are going to be announced. The mad scramble for tickets, the hope of getting decent seats, and entering all the inevitable contests in hopes of scoring better seats ... it's a whole thing.

But sometimes, tours can go horribly wrong. Just consider how many shows any group is going to be playing, where they're located, and how much distance there is between gigs. Now, look at how much time they actually have to get from Point A to Point B ... then on to Points C, D, E ... and onward, usually for months at a time. They criss-cross the country and sometimes the world, and it's seriously impressive that they even know what city they're in. Most of the time, at least.

All that travel — and all that exhausted travel — makes it not entirely surprising that sometimes, there are horrible, life-altering accidents while on tour.

Metallica: To Live Is to Die

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Metallica was in Sweden promoting their latest release — Master of Puppets — and heading to their next tour date when, just before 7 a.m. on September 27, 1986, the driver skidded on a patch of black ice and lost control. The tour bus flipped and threw bassist Cliff Burton through a window. What happened next is told differently by people on the scene, but they do all agree that when the bus landed, it landed on top of Burton and killed the 24-year-old musician. There were, of course, questions as to whether the accident could have been prevented, but an investigation cleared the driver of any wrongdoing.

James Hetfield painted a heartbreaking picture of the accident, telling In the Studio: "Coming out and finding your buddy under the bus is not something you want to go through. Our first reaction was anger. ... Why did this happen? ... There were screams from the crew who were still trapped in there, screaming in pain."

In a bizarre footnote, Burton was sleeping on a top bunk when the accident happened, and he'd ended up there because of a single draw from a deck of cards. He and guitarist Kirk Hammett drew cards to choose who was going to get the pick of the bunks, and Burton won with the ace of spades. He chose the bunk that Hammett had been using, and ultimately died.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Sky Is Crying

Stevie Ray Vaughan's 136-show In Step Tour kicked off on May 4, 1989, and ended with an epic show featuring Eric Clapton (via SRV Archive) followed by a tragic helicopter accident that took one of music's most respected guitarists.

The show was at Wisconsin's Alpine Valley Musical Theater, and after the show, a group of four helicopters had been reserved to fly the performers back to their Chicago hotel. According to Guitar World, one of the choppers had been reserved for Vaughan, his brother, and his brother's wife. Some of Clapton's entourage was already on board, though, and Vaughan asked to swap in.

It was only the next morning that reports started to go out that the chopper had never reached its destination, and when friends found Vaughan's hotel room empty, they thought the worst. By 7 a.m., Vaughan's brother was called and asked to identify his body. Vaughan — along with everyone else on the chopper — had died only half a mile into the flight, when the pilot banked sharply in the fog and collided with a ski slope.

Eerily, only the day before Vaughan had shared a disturbing dream with his bandmates: He had dreamed he was a witness to his own funeral.

Dropkick Murphys: Until the Next Time

The end of 2014 was a bad time for Celtic punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys. On November 13, Al Barr received word that a childhood friend had passed away. He posted that he was going to be unable to make their next scheduled show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as he would be flying out to attend his friend's funeral.

But to add to the tragedy, Loudwire says they never made it to the airport. The next announcement was that they were canceling their Tulsa show after their tour bus hit and killed a pedestrian who had run into the street in front of them.

The Boston Globe later identified the man as a 23-year-old father of one, adding that the accident had happened just north of Austin on Interstate 35. Even as the Dropkick Murphys posted about their show cancellation, condolences, and with a request their fans keep the family of the man in their prayers, the family returned the sentiment with sympathies to all the band members involved and to the bus driver.

Ozzy Osbourne: Mama, I'm Coming Home

Black Sabbath had given Ozzy Osbourne the boot in 1979, but by the early '80s, things were sort of back on track. Rolling Stone credits guitarist Randy Rhoads for that, and Ozzy says Rhoads' accidental death still haunts him.

"To this day, as I'm talking to you now, I'm back in that field looking at this f*cking plane wreck and a house on fire," Osbourne said in 2018. "You never get over something like that. You're in shock."

And it was a bizarre accident. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, bus driver Andrew Aycock (who had an expired pilot's license) hopped in a small 1955 Beechcraft Bonanza with Rhoads and a woman named Rachel Youngblood. With Ozzy and the rest of his band asleep on the tour bus, Aycock buzzed the bus a few times before losing control, hitting a tree, and crashing into a house. The three were killed instantly, and the incident had a lasting impact on the other band members — particularly Rudy Sarzo, who parted ways with Ozzy and returned to Quiet Riot after the accident. Sarzo simply said, "It was so painful to go onstage without Randy, so I just left one of the biggest bands in the world for nothing, no promises, no nothing, just so I could enjoy playing again."

It was Sharon Osbourne who pushed them to move on. Within a week and a half, they were back on tour with replacement guitarist Bernie Torme.

Gary Numan: We Are Glass

Yes, that Gary Numan is absolutely still around, and in early 2018 he announced (via Consequence of Sound) that he was going to be going on tour — for a second time — to support his 22nd album, Savage (Songs from a Broken World). That was in April, and it was in September 2018 that he canceled a show at the House of Blues after his tour bus was involved in a tragic accident.

According to Rolling Stone, Numan's tour bus was making a right turn when it collided with a 91-year-old man who had been pushing a cart through a crosswalk. The man died at the scene and was given last rites by a priest from a nearby church.

Numan not only canceled the show, but issued this statement: "We are all utterly devastated by the fatal accident involving our tour bus earlier today. Every one of us is filled with a sadness that made it impossible to even consider playing our show this evening, and out of respect it would have been entirely wrong. ... At the moment all we can think about are the people affected by this terrible tragedy, and to them we send our love."

Buddy Holly: That'll Be the Day

February 3, 1959, was forever immortalized as The Day the Music Died, although everyone from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan and Elton John would be inspired by Buddy Holly ... who stayed 22 years old forever.

Three of the biggest up-and-coming rock stars of their day were on the plane that crashed not long after takeoff. It claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson Jr., better known as The Big Bopper. They had just finished playing a show in Iowa, part of their very 1950s-sounding Winter Dance Party Tour. The concerts were amazing, but the travel part was less than ideal.

According to the Independent, they were faced with a 400-mile journey to their next gig, and literally no one wanted to make the trip on their freezing, malfunctioning tour bus. Holly decided to charter a private plane, but there were only so many seats. Holly took one, Valens won another on a coin toss, and another musician — Waylon Jennings — gave his seat to Richardson, who was suffering from the flu. For the rest of his life, Jennings would be haunted by the good-natured but, in hindsight, horrible exchange he had with Holly just before the plane took off:

"I hope your damned bus freezes up again," Holly had told him. Jennings' response? "I hope your ol' plane crashes."

There were no survivors.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: That Smell

Lynyrd Skynyrd's iconic album Street Survivors had hit shelves only a few days before they boarded their leased, 30-year-old plane in spite of many misgivings. They'd already played five shows on the tour, and it had gone well — they were sitting on top of the world, but no amount of success can persuade the Reaper to look the other way.

According to Rolling Stone, they had plans to upgrade their old Convair 240 to a Learjet, and their 600-mile flight from Greenville to Baton Rouge was going to be one of their last trips in the Convair. It was — but not for the reasons they thought.

Survivors said nearly everyone onboard (except Ronnie Van Zant) had misgivings about the trip — misgivings amplified by the fact that just a few days earlier, flames had been seen spitting from one of the engines. But Van Zant was adamant, pushing them with these fateful words: "Hey, if the Lord wants you to die on this plane, when it's your time, it's your time. Let's go, man. We've got a gig to do." The plane crashed around three hours later. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and his sister, Cassie, lost their lives in the Mississippi swamps.

Strangely, Van Zant had been convinced that he would die before he turned 30, and he was just a few months shy of his 30th birthday when the plane went down.

Reba McEntire: For My Broken Heart

There's no denying that a single decision can change the course of an entire life, and for Reba McEntire, that decision happened in 1991. McEntire and her band had finished a show in San Diego and were heading to their next gig. She, her husband, and her stylist decided to spend one more night in California, while the others went on ahead in two separate planes. The second plane made it to its destination, but 10 miles from the destination, tragedy struck the first plane as it carried eight of McEntire's close friends and bandmates (via The Boot).

According to Taste of Country, one of the plane's wings clipped a rock protruding from the side of Otay Mountain. No one survived the crash.

Other country music superstars stepped up, even offering to give McEntire their own backing bands so she could continue on and finish her tour, but she declined. She continued to memorialize the crash and remember those she lost, dedicating her next album — For My Broken Heart — to those who died in the crash. She visited the crash site on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, posting on social media: "I feel in my heart that they know we still miss them so much. My love and prayers to all the families and friends."

Gloria Estefan: Get On Your Feet

Some people are fortunate — and determined — enough to turn a tragedy into something good, and that's exactly what Gloria Estefan has managed to do.

In 1990, she was headed for Syracuse when her tour bus was rear-ended (via Syracuse). Her injuries were catastrophic: She broke her back and was told there was a very good chance she would never walk again, much less get on stage and dance.

Years later, Estefan talked frankly about the accident on Oprah's Next Chapter. "Those things can ... tear you apart. It's hard to handle."

But she gives her husband a huge amount of credit toward aiding in her recovery, which included nine months of therapy, every day, for seven hours a day. She was up and out of bed every 45 minutes, not because her therapy called for it but because she was in too much pain to sleep.

She came to this conclusion: "At first, I just wanted to walk again. And then I thought, 'Maybe this was the whole point of me becoming famous, to now go through something like this in the public eye and hopefully show people how much power we actually have and what we can do to help change our destiny." Estefan has gone on to do charity work, campaigning, and fundraising, all in hopes of furthering medical research done on spinal cord injuries and paralysis (via Fox).

Trace Adkins: Help Me Understand

According to CNN, Trace Adkins was already at the CenturyTel Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, in 2010 for his scheduled show when he got the news that his tour bus had been involved in a horrific accident just north of Shreveport.

Five members of his band were on the bus, though, and while they suffered only minor injuries, the two men who were in the Ford F-250 when it collided head-on with the tour bus were killed.

According to the official investigation (via The Boot), the truck had been swerving as it approached the bus, and the bus driver was unable to avoid it. Ultimately, the cause of the accident was ruled to be driver fatigue — the men in the truck had been up for around 24 hours at the point of the accident and were on their way home from an all-nighter at a nearby casino. Adkins played a "scaled-down" version of his show following the accident, and canceled his following show in Pensacola.

Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays: I've Got Dreams to Remember

Otis Redding, the 26-year-old well-driller turned megastar, died not long after unseating Elvis Presley as the Melody Maker's top male vocalist (via Rolling Stone). He was seeing the fruits of his labors, too — the tour that he died on was the first tour where he was using his own, newly purchased private plane.

Redding and his backing group, the Bar-Kays, were only 4 miles from their destination — the Madison Municipal Airport in Madison, Wisconsin — when the plane crashed into a nearby lake. It had been covered with fog, and days later, rescue divers were still dredging the lake to try to recover those who had been on the plane.

There was one survivor: Ben Cauley. A seat cushion saved his life, and he — along with fellow Bar-Kay member James Alexander, who was on another plane — rebuilt the group and later toured with Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, and the Doobie Brothers. Any accident like this is terrible, but the deaths of the Bar-Kays were particularly heartbreaking: They were still in high school at the time, and some were so young that Billboard says they needed permission slips from their parents to miss school and go on the tour.

There's a footnote here, too. CL Tampa Bay says the accident came just three days after Redding recorded what would be one of his most iconic songs: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.

The Ghost Inside: White Light

In 2015, The Ghost Inside was on their way from a gig in Texas to their next show in Phoenix when they were involved in a catastrophic accident.

They were just outside El Paso when a truck hit their tour bus head-on. At first, details were sketchy. NME reported that the driver of their tour bus and one person in the other vehicle had been killed, and drummer Andrew Tkaczyk had been seriously injured. In the immediate aftermath, his brother Nick said Andrew had suffered head trauma, a shoulder injury, and broken bones. It later came out that Andrew had spent 10 days in a coma and had one of his legs amputated.

It wasn't until 2018 that Digital Music News reported there might be the possibility that the group would play again. Tkaczyk had been fitted with a prosthetic (not ideal for playing), and his father built a device that adapted his drums to his missing leg. The Ghost Inside currently has plans to play a single live show in July 2019, but what will happen after that is unclear.