October 20, 1977 was a day that changed the lives of everyone in Lynyrd Skynyrd forever. Those who survived the crash struggled for some time to cope with the loss of their bandmates, especially keyboardist Billy Powell. During a radio interview in 1986, Billy opened up about what happened on that fateful day, and how he eventually came to terms with the tragedy.
After a performance in Greenville, South Carolina, the band boarded a plane to head to Baton Rogue, Louisiana for a concert the next night. When the plane ran out of fuel, the pilots attempted an emergency landing, but ended up crashing instead.
Out of the 26 people on the plane, six were killed on impact while most of the others were severely injured. The crash claimed the lives of pilot Walter McCreary, co-pilot William Gray, road manager Dean Kilpatrick, background singer Cassie Gaines, guitarist Steve Gaines, and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. Billy was one of the 20 people who survived the crash, but he was seriously injured.
While his injuries eventually healed, Billy’s heart remained broken. He had a tough time coping with what happened, and turned toward alcohol and drugs as a result. Eventually, Billy realized how he was destroying his life, and decided to turn things around. He became a Christian, and went on to find true happiness.
During his 1986 radio interview, Billy talked openly about his faith, and how it saved him from his path of self-destruction. He also revealed some details about the crash, saying he knew it was the power of prayer that helped save so many people on the plane:
“When the airplane was going down, instead of everybody panicking, there was twenty-six people on it, and when it went down instead of everybody panicking everybody started praying…I to this day truly believe that’s why twenty people out of twenty-six survived.”
One year later, Billy joined Skynyrd yet again when they reunited, and he remained a loyal member of the band until his death in 2009. Anyone who watches Skynyrd or listens to their music can tell Billy was blessed with an incredible talent, and we’re glad he was able to share it with the world.
You can listen to his full radio interview in the clip below.