Otis Redding died when his plane crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin, 3-4 miles short of the intended landing runway at the Madison, WI airport. The crash was estimated to have occurred around 3:25PM CST on December 10th, 1967. His band, The Bar-Kays, were also on board the flight. Band members also killed in the flight were:
The pilot of Otis’s Beechcraft H18, Richard Fraser, was also killed in the crash.
The only person to survive the Lake Monona plane crash was band member Ben Cauley (1947-10-03 to 2015-09-21), aged 20: trumpeter.
Cauley recalled the events of that tragedy in a 2014 interview with The Badger Herald:
“I reached down and unbuckled my seat, I don’t know why, I just reached down and unbuckled it.”
He added hearing the calls for help from Ronnie Caldwell & Carl Cunningham , but because Cauley himself couldn’t swim and was using a seat cushion to stay afloat, he did not believe he could help them.
Bar-Kays band member James Alexander (bassist) was on another plane headed to Madison, WI.
Alexander remembered getting the call (source: wreg.com):
“Man, it’s a very numb, empty feeling. It’s a very empty feeling just to wake up and guys earlier in that day you were laughing and talking with, and all of a sudden those guys aren’t around.”
Cauley & Alexander were still so shaken that neither made his funeral.
Even sadder, if such sadness can be quantified, many members of Redding’s band, The Bar-Kays, were high school students. Some needed written permission from a guardian to travel with Otis that summer.
What was the cause of the crash?
No one is certain. The weather was a typical late-fall day in the Midwest, aka “terrible.” Every outlet I’ve read has reported the weather was foggy with rain / sleet, conditions that would cancel flights today despite all the advanced technology. Lake Monona was reportedly ice-cold, which makes sense for that time of year in Madison, WI.
There are reports I found where the pilot, Richard Fraser, was told not to fly, but nothing that seemed substantial.
One of the parts I don’t get: James Brown sold the plane to Otis Redding yet warned him against using the aircraft.
According to numerous outlets, James Brown wrote in his autobiography that when he sold the twin-engine Beechcraft H18 to Redding, Brown warned Redding against flying it. To be a fly on the wall during that sale.
Why buy a plane when the owner warns you against flying?
Maybe there was a Redding reality distortion field and Otis thought nothing would happen because he willed it so. Maybe Brown was full of shit. Both seem plausible.
Warning: There are pics out there of the Otis Redding crash recovery. There are pics of what the plane looked like once it was pulled up from Lake Monona. There are also pictures out there of Otis’s body being pulled from the wreckage as well as his body lying on a table, still strapped to his seat.
I’m not posting them here, but there are several websites that have them. Just make sure you realize that they’re not gruesome, but they’re painful to see.
There are pictures of Redding’s plane resting on the salvage ship. The plane’s front is essentially gone, scattered like puzzle pieces about the lake. Rumor has it the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Vegas has one of the pieces that says, “Otis.”
As for Otis, he looks passed out drunk and bloated. There’s no blood or scrapes visible, but I got nauseous when I saw them. If you have a weak stomach, don’t click the links below. Otherwise, I Googled it for you:
Three days before he died, Otis Redding finished recording “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.”
According the liner notes to “The Otis Redding Story” DVD via Wikipedia, Redding & Cropper had finished the final overdubs for “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” on December 7th. Otis never got to hear it live on the radio. He never got to play it in front of his fans. The song wasn’t released until February 1968.
Talk about a candle burning brightest before it burns out.
In the same article, Moe also noted that the residents had a 45th anniversary of the crash alongside Lake Monona.
45 years later and fans are still celebrating him. It’s beautiful. It will be 50 years this year. I hope they plan something as well.
Otis Redding’s Funeral:
Otis Redding’s death shook the music world. The family backed up his funeral until December 18th, 1967, so people from around the world could make travel plans.
His funeral appeared to be an incredible outpouring of support. It was held at the Macon Civic Auditorium in Macon, Georgia. Some 4,500 attended the procession, with countless more coming to pay final respects. According to the incredible funeral pics found on OtisRedding.fr, notable attendees included Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Sam & Dave, and, of course, James Brown.
The list goes on, but the point is that given that heroes never seem to go easy, I fear that Otis might not have died on impact. That he, too, like Caldwell & Cunningham, could have been pleading for help, unable to remove the seatbelt. There’s a special place in Hell for emergency workers who tell family anything other than the best possible scenario. Here’s to hoping they didn’t have to lie.
Somewhere, someone up in the metta has to show a little kindness. Right?
Anything I missed? Please, let me know.
I want to get it right and on one page so I can keep track of it all.