CLEAR LAKE | The National Transportation Safety Board has an arduous procedure for reconsideration of the board's findings involving a plane crash like the 1959 Clear Lake crash dubbed "the day the music died."
Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson were killed when their 1947 Beech Bonanza crashed just minutes after takeoff from the Mason City Municipal Airport. The men had played the Surf Ballroom the night before as part of a multi-city tour titled Winter Dance Party.
The men were heading to Fargo, North Dakota, the closest airport to Moorhead, Minnesota, the next stop on the concert tour.
A New England man, L.J. Coon, has filed a petition seeking a review of the Sept. 23, 1959, report by the Civil Aeronautics Board which laid the majority of the blame for the crash on the pilot Peterson.
The NTSB generally receives less than a dozen petitions for reconsideration or modification each year. The petitions are reviewed under the provisions of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) -- Chapter 845.41.
Reviews are granted only if based on the discovery of new evidence or on a showing that the board's findings are erroneous, according to the chapter section.
Crash investigations are never closed, according to the NTSB.
A NTSB response to Coon's petition dated Feb. 19 states the agency hopes to determine if his request meets the criteria for a petition sometime within the next two months. The agency will have to visit a Federal Archive facility to locate the original crash report and then decide if Coon provided new evidence or proved the CAB findings were incorrect.
If Coon's petition does meet the criteria, it can take six months to a year to decide if the petition will be granted; in other words, if the NTSB will change the probable cause of the crash.
According to the CAB report, the plane carrying Charles Hardin Holley, Richard Valenzuela and J.P. Richardson crashed at approximately 1 a.m. about five miles north of the airport.
The aircraft took off toward the south in a normal manner, turned and climbed to an estimated alitutude of 800 feet and then headed in a northwesterly direction, observers reported.
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After about five miles, the tail light of the aircraft appeared to descend gradually until it disappeared from sight. Attempts to contact the aircraft by radio were unsuccessful. The wreckage was found the next morning.
"This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot's decision to undertake a flight in which the likelihood of encountering instrument conditions existed, in the mistaken belief that he could cope with en route instrument weather conditions, without having the necessary familiarization with the instruments in the aircraft and without being properly certified to fly solely by instruments," the 1959 report states.
Peterson, 21, was employed by Dwyer Flying Service as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. He had been with Dwyer for about a year.
Since starting to fly in October 1954, Peterson had logged 711 flying hours, 128 of which were in the Bonanza aircraft. Peterson had passed his instrument written examination but failed an instrument flight check on March 21, 1958.
When his instrument training was taken, several different aircraft were used and were all equipped with the conventional type artificial horizon. None of them had the Sperry F3 Attitude Gyro which was installed in the Beech Bonanza. The displays in the two instruments are very different, according to the crash report.
The crash report also discusses the weather at the time of takeoff.
Light snow had begun to fall and the ceiling and visibility were lowering.
"It is believed that shortly after takeoff Pilot Peterson entered an area of complete darkness and one in which there was no definite horizon; that the snow conditions and the lack of horizon required him to rely solely on flight instruments for aircraft attitude and orientation," the CAB report states.
In the wake of the crash, a safety message was issued for pilots warning about the use of both the attitude gyro and artificial horizon.
"Unless the pilot is highly skilled in instrument flying and can re-orient himself by use of the other instruments in the cockpit, this period of disorientation can be fatal," the safety message read.
In all capital letters the message continues, "Know your aircraft equipment, its capabilities and limitations. Do not rely upon any equipment under circumstances requiring its use of the safe conduct of the flight until you have acquired sufficient experience under simulated conditions to insure your ability to use it properly."