Singer Jim Croce, who died in plane crash in Natchitoches, “gave something to remember”

From The Shreveport Times, Natchitoches News Bureau, Sept. 22, 1973
From The Shreveport Times, Natchitoches News Bureau, Sept. 22, 1973

On Sept. 21, 1973, singer Jim Croce who had an outstanding diction, along with an entourage of five people, were killed after their chartered twin-engine Beechcraft plane crashed near the Natchitoches Municipal Airport.

Croce, who was just 30, had just one hour and 10 minutes earlier finished a concert at Northwestern State University and was headed out to perform next in Dallas.

According to Natkchitoches officials, the plane never gained much altitude.  One wing reported scraped the edge of a pecan tree near the then-new Hwy. 1 bypass.  The plane erolled over and burst apart upon impact with hte ground before coming to rest about 200 yards from the end of hte runway.  All passengers were killed instantly.

Croce’s body was found in the copilot’s seat.

Croce had been scheduled to stay overnight in Natchitoches and fly to Dallas the following day, but last minute changes in plans caused him to leave after the concert instead of the following day.

I came across the following article, from UPI (United Press International) News Services on Sept. 22, 1973.

NATCHITOCHES, La. —Jim Croce sat in a folding chair, relaxed and comfortable in his faded blue work shirt and jeans. softly strumming his guitar.

“I’ve flown about 700,000 or 800,000 miles just this past year.  I’m starting to feel it now, too.  You know, jet lag.”

Then he gave his last concert before 2,000 laughing and cheering students at Northwestern University’s Prather Coliseum.   An hour later, alter closing with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” he was dead in the wreckage of an airplane

Rough-hewn, mustachioed, cigar-smoking, weather-beaten Jim Croce gave the students something to remember: music that was honest, sincere, old fashioned, but not slick and spoiled by success.

“I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing now,” was what he said in that last interview before going on one more time

He said he liked performing before college kids in the South, because, “East and West Coast audiences tend to have a ‘show me’ attitude.  He was in the middle of a fiv-week tour of one-night concerts in the Southwest.

“Operator,” one of his early hits, and his current big single, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” were the show stoppers.  When Croce finished with “Leroy Brown,” he just walked off the stage, leaving many students wondering if that was the end of the concert.  It was.

In his 35 minute performance, his new releases, “I Have Name’ and “I Fell in Love with a Roller Derby Queen,” were pleasers, too.  He mode the audience laugh when he told them he wrote “Derby Queen” after meeting a fat lady in a bar.

Croce died with his five-man troupe at Natchitoches Airport in the crash of the twin-engine airplane that was taking them to Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

Croce sang with his guitar in a spotlight standing at a microphone at center stage.  A few feet away, Comedian George Stevens proceeded Croce’s appearance, which began at 9 p.m. And ended at 9:35 p.m.

“In an industry filled with freak acts, Croce was a welcome and much needed change,” one student said.


36 thoughts on “Singer Jim Croce, who died in plane crash in Natchitoches, “gave something to remember””

  1. Great article. Jim Croce was just getting started. We will never know the wonderful songs that would have been.

  2. The urban legend is that Jim Croce and his entourage were suspected of having marijuana with them, and that the Natchitoches police and sheriff department drained the gas tank so that the plane would not be able to take off. However, there was just enough gas in the tank to get off the ground, and the rest is history.

      1. Andy … in the preceding three years have you learned about google yet. Urban Legend ??? Jim is an Urban Legend. 8 months on top and 47 years later we still talk about his life.

    1. They would never do that. That’s endangering a life. That’s legend. If they didn’t want the plane to take off all they had to do was cut a couple of spark plug wires, not drain the gas tank. That’s sabotage. Highly illegal.

  3. Growing up in the same township as Jim Croce and attending the same schools was a thrill when I learned he lived a few streets from me and then to find that my friends knew him and would meet with him whenever he was in town just floored me. I was invited to meet with him the summer of 73 but never got picked up so I left it as “I’ll see him another time soon”. But that would never happen and I’m still have a broken heart to this day. I have met his cousins and learned so much of this gifted talented man that I launched a Facebook entertainment page for all to enjoy. Hope it will thrill everyone that visits.

  4. In 1974 I was performing with my band in Charlotte NC, & was invited by Harry Chapin back stage to his show at an amusement park..My drummer & I were in line at a roller coaster before the afternoon show, & I started talking to a girl, & found out she was from the town where Jim Croce had his last concert where his plane crashed..She lived there, & told me that she knew the sheriff, & he wanted to catch Jim with marijuana, so he drained the gas from Jim’s plane so it wouldn’t take off, but there was enough gas in the tank for the plane to barely take off, & then crash, & kill him.
    This was hushed up so the sheriff wouldn’t be arrested for murder. I was sick when I heard of this senseless murder. I’m sure the sheriff never intended to kill him, but he did..
    I loved Jim Croce as we all did.. My name is Tuffy Williams, & this is a true story..

    1. Being from that area and knowing the officials like I do I believe it. Red neck fucker shut out one of the brightest lights we had. It broke my heart.

      1. It’s a damn lie and you know it. You’re the asshole, not the people you’ve maligned with your lie.

    2. What a load of crap. The NTSB stated the cause as pilot error due to him having a medical condition. The report from the NTSB named the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to see the obstruction because of his physical impairment and the fog reducing his vision. The 57-year-old Elliott suffered from severe coronary artery disease and had run three miles (5 km) to the airport from a motel.

      1. Here’s the rub ….
        That Lends an element of credibility to the story.
        There was A Truncated Investigation .
        Most of which was handled by the local Sheriff’s Office.
        Typically, Planes that Crash on Take Off… have a full load of fuel.
        the Result is Always Fire. if even a small one.
        this case …
        NO FIRE …
        No ground Fuel contamination. clean up.
        look it up.

        the accident report in the official record..
        is just plane and crew technical detail.
        a description of the take off roll and rotation.
        and what it hit .
        speculation as to why it may have hit it.. ( the Tree )
        the report was filed with the N.T.S.B.
        by the sheriff’s department.
        not investigated by the N.T.S.B.
        (this is not unusual for small airplane crashes in 1973)
        still the practice today in some cases. .
        over zealous people have done many stupid things .
        this is a story , not so far fetched . the reasoning .
        believable … is it true. ? it’s one plausible explanation. of a few.

    3. I met a girl once and she said so it must be true… Sorry, not even close to buying that. The FAA would have been all over that and published that in the report.

  5. I understand underhanded small town dirty dealings. But, the NTSB did a full investigation into this crash, and I think they would have noticed if the plane was out of gas. They would have had no reason to lie to protect a local sheriff. It was attributed 100% to pilot error. Also, think about it, either the engine was running, or it wasn’t , being low on fuel will not cause a plane to gain altitude more slowly. People love to buy into conspiracies, even when common sense offers no proof of anything other than an accident.

  6. Yes. Even back then the planes had fuel gauges. Don’t you think they would have checked. Or was pilot to high to check? People make up stories to make a better legend.

  7. Sad comments. I’ve been around aviation my entire life. I know accidents happen. So, also coronary failures. I know you can accidentally take off on the wrong fuel tank. It happened to my father and I. We were fortunate to have sufficient altitude to hit the fuel tank select control and restart in flight. But I think that the most likely events are those indicated in the accident reports.
    So sad to lose Jim and others. Such a great talent.

  8. My father was the first EMT on the scene of the crash. He was the one who retrieved the body of Jim Croce and the pilot and transferred their bodies to the coroner.

    1. That’s incredible your dad was the first on the scene to retrieve the body of one of musics greatest legends. And from reading the reports on the investigation it appears it could have been pretty easily avoided as it was the only tree near the then new runway which makes it all the more tragic. But Jim Croce’s great music still lives on.

  9. Jim decided to leave for Sherman, Tx after the concert that night instead of the next day as had been planned. Sherman was the last stop on the tour & Jim indicated in some letters to his wife that he was anxious to get home. The 57 year old pilot from Dallas rushed back. Since Natchitoches did not have any taxi service he ran & walked the 3 miles back to the airport & by all accounts looked like hell. Planes (just like cars) don’t always burst into flames when they impact. Something has to happen like a breach of fuel tank or broken line that then spills fuel onto hot engine parts like the exhaust. Certain conditions must be met & there are countless crashes where the aircraft did not erupt into a fireball even loaded with fuel. The pecan tree that they hit was later cut down. The plane was facing backwards to the direction of travel at the scene so it would have minimized the likelihood that great quantities of fuel would have contacted the forward engines.

  10. Alright, so I’ve been a big Jim Croce fan since I was a flight instructor 30 years go. Three decades of aviation experience since then, has taught me one thing: Pilots check the fuel level. We check it first, last, and every minute in between. Fuel is life. The worst pilot in the world would not take off without looking at the fuel gauge.
    Also, draining that much fuel is difficult. The theory simply isn’t plausible.

  11. Jim Croce was a Husband, a Father, a Son, a Nephew, a Cousin, he was a Very Talented and Gifted Singer/Songwriter. Arguing about his death takes away from what he has left us, he was young and it was a tragedy, still is, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE HIS MUSIC. My One and Only Son came home for the Last Time in a Casket draped in Our American Flag, I could point fingers and say this or that about his death but that’s not going to accomplish anything and it won’t bring him back, May he Rest In Peace, May God Bless Us All

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