CLEAR LAKE — As tragic as the deaths of three young aspiring rock musicians was, Jerry and Barb Dwyer of Clear Lake can’t forget the fourth victim of that fateful 1959 plane crash — pilot Roger Peterson.
Peterson, 21, a Dwyer Flying Service employee, was flying the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson that crashed north of the Mason City Municipal Airport on Feb. 3, 1959.
The Alta, Iowa, native showed up at Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City in early 1958 looking for a job.
“He was such a nice, clean-looking, nice looking, clean-cut young man,” Barb recalled.
Jerry was out of town that day.
“He (Peterson) had said he’d do anything but he wanted to fly. He’d been flying ever since he was a kid because his father owned a small aircraft.
“I told him as far as I’m concerned you’re hired.
But Jerry would have to have the final say-so.”
The Dwyers hired Peterson.
Peterson married his high school sweetheart Deanne Lenz in September 1958.
“She worked at KGLO-TV,” Barb said. “They were married and they moved to Clear Lake and they lived on North Shore and she worked at the TV station and they’d been married not a year yet when this happened.
“She was very kind of quiet, reserved but friendly, very nice. She made friends easily.
“We had a group of young people that worked for us. They would all get together and sometimes we’d join them, too.
“At that time, we were all pretty young and we did a lot of things together,” Barb said.
That same year, at Peterson’s urging, the air service bought a four-seat, 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza, a fast and sophisticated plane for the time and an aircraft Peterson had always wanted to fly. It was the plane he was flying the night of the crash.
Peterson was an experienced pilot, Jerry said.
“He’d been out to the East Coast. He’d been all over for us flying these airplanes. I mean he flew all the other airplanes we had,” Jerry said.
Jerry strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the Civil Aeronautics Board that the most likely cause of the crash was pilot error.
“What got me is they said he was not familiar with this airplane, which was a crock. If you drove your car out to California and back and to New York and to Florida a few times you would probably know how the lights worked and a few other things,” Jerry said.
Jerry has his own theories about what caused the crash. But he doesn’t want to share them right now. He plans to discuss that in a book he is writing about the accident.
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The CAB concluded that the secondary cause of the crash was poor weather conditions. That’s another finding that the Dwyers dispute.
“It was not snowing at that stage. When the airplane left I could see the wing lights and the taillights,” Jerry said.
“The weather service here told Jerry that there should be no problem with the flight,” Barb said.
The weather was expected to deteriorate in Fargo, N.D., where the plane was heading, but the weather in Mason City was no problem, the Dwyers said.
The flying time from Mason City to Fargo, was about 90 minutes.
The flight for the rock musicians for their next gig in Fargo was booked by someone from the Surf Ballroom.
“They said they had some young men that didn’t want to go on the bus and that they wanted to go to Fargo, N.D.,” Barb said.
Jerry told Barb that he might be getting a late-night call. He was thinking of having Peterson stay the night in Fargo if the weather worsened.
“No phone call. Jerry was up all night calling. He called everywhere. He called everywhere on the route that he would have gone. He talked to every FAA station there was,” Barb said.
“You can’t get the phone number of Fargo tower. You can’t get it,” Jerry said. He eventually was able to get the number from some friends.
The plane never got to Fargo. Jerry found the plane wreckage the next morning.
“It took me about six minutes to find the airplane,” he said.
That’s the only accident the Dwyers have ever been involved in.
In the furor of the moment, the Dwyers received death threats.
“Every year for a while we just got out of town to our place on Florida. We avoided it,” Barb said.
“There were some people that hated my guts,” Jerry said.
Peterson has stayed in their hearts. The responsibility of putting him in the plane that night is never far from their minds.
Barb said Deanne Peterson eventually remarried and moved to Minnesota.
“Anybody that had any children would love to have him for a son,” said Jerry, fighting back tears.
“He was a good looking, smart kid that listened and did a good job,” Jerry said.