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When the plane carrying country stars including singer, Patsy Cline, went down on Mar. 5, 1963, first responders arrived on the “very dreadful” scene assured on sight no one could have survived. They’d also heard Cline’s plane was four hours overdue for landing. So, when they found “broken guitars, cowboys hats, and rhinestones” strewn about the area, they knew they were dealing with a high-profile death.

Patsy Cline poses and smiles in a fringe dress c. 1958
Patsy Cline | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Patsy Cline and other Grand Ole Opry stars crashed 90 miles from their destination

Most observers generally agree Cline’s plane shouldn’t have taken off in the weather conditions the inexperienced pilot, her manager, Randy Hughes, faced that day. Despite intermittent fog, wind, and lightning, Cline boarded the flight along with fellow stars, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.

With Hughes at the wheel, they started the journey from Kansas City, Missouri to Nashville, Tennessee. They stopped to refuel shortly before the crash and were reportedly advised to stay the night. But, eager to get home, they pushed ahead.

Tragically, the plane went down around Camden, Tennessee, not long after they made that last stop. They were about 90 miles from their destination.

A first responder described the ‘very dreadful’ scene at Patsy Cline plane crash site

In 1996, first responder, Jerry Phifer, gave an interview to share some perspective of the time around the crash.

He was a young police dispatcher then and remembered receiving a call from a farmer reporting the accident. That individual heard the engine of the plane sputtering before it quit. After that, he heard the crash.

At some point after that initial report came in, Phifer and others learned Cline’s plane was missing and could be somewhere nearby. But the poor weather conditions made searching hard, especially in the dark.

According to Phifer’s recollection, the farmer who called in the emergency found the wreckage the following morning. “I’ll never forget walking down that hill that morning,” he said of coming onto the scene.

As they neared the actual site of impact, his hair stood up and he developed a “funny feeling” about the “very dreadful” site. He remembered finding “broken guitars, cowboy hats, and rhinestones” strewn about and knowing they’d just found Cline’s plane.

The emergency responders knew there was no chance for finding any survivors. Eventually, they did identify the “Crazy” singer and her remains were sent to her family in Tennessee for an in-home wake. Then, she went back to Winchester for burial at Shenandoah Memorial Park.


The Plane Crash That Killed Patsy Cline and the Other Country Tragedies Surrounding It

Bystanders scavenged the plane crash site

As Phifer recalled, he was amazed how people “immediately” began to arrive on the scene after the crash site was located, taking what they could find from the “Sweet Dreams” singer’s scattered belongings and other wreckage.

For instance, the plane hit with such impact, the engine embedded in the ground and debris were scattered over about 300 feet. He said, “Two or three men dug the engine out of the ground and carried it off.”

Phifer confessed to picking up a few items, too. He had a cufflink he believed belonged to Hawkins, some guitar strings, and some pieces of the plane.

Other items collected from the site included Cline’s cigarette lighter and her wrist watch, which was reportedly used to help determine time of death. Some of her personal belongings, including that watch, are on display in Nashville’s Patsy Cline Museum, per Rolling Stone.