Reviewing “The Day the Music Died”

By Kelly Nantel

The Day the Music Died.jpg
“The Day the Music Died” by Civil Aeronautics Board – Picture from The Day the Music Died: Crash Site Photo Archive (Other photos available, graphic content). The photographs were originally attached with the Aircraft Accident Report – File No. 2-0001 by the Civil Aeronautics Board (September 15, 1959). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1959, a tragic plane crash took the life of the plane’s pilot as well as those of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”). Recently there have been reports and on-line conversations suggesting that the NTSB has re-opened the investigation into that crash. That is not accurate.

Rather, the NTSB has received a petition for reconsideration of the findings of the Civil Aeronautics Board (the forerunner to the NTSB), which investigated the crash and issued an accident report. The CAB found that the probable cause of the crash was “the pilot’s unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely by instruments when he was not properly certified or qualified to do so.”

The NTSB generally receives less than a dozen petitions each year. When we do, the petitions are reviewed under the provisions of 49 CFR – § 845.41. In layman’s terms, the NTSB will only reconsider previous findings if (1) the petitioner provides new evidence about the accident, or (2) the petitioner shows that the original findings were erroneous.

“Reviewing the petition” means that we are determining if it meets these standards, but not that we have analysed any of the information presented. If the NTSB determines that this petition meets the criteria, then we will examine any new evidence presented and determine its merit.

It’s important to note that NTSB investigations are never “closed”, and determinations of Probable Cause may be reviewed based on evidence not available at the time of the original investigation.

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