Pilot Inexperience Caused the Plane Crash That Killed Patsy Cline and 2 Other Country Stars

On Mar. 5, 1963, the plane carrying country stars Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins crashed in Tennessee, killing everyone on board. Unfortunately, the crash was reportedly due to the inexperience of the pilot, Cline’s manager, Randy Hughes.

While the story of her death is well known to many music fans, some of the other stories aren’t. Almost 60 years after the tragedy, the faces and voices of those who died with her are much harder to find than hers. So, here’s some of what we know.

Posed studio portrait of Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline | RB/Redferns

Randy Hughes was Patsy Cline’s manager and was piloting the plane

After playing a benefit concert in Kansas City, the “Crazy” singer and others all boarded a small plane. According to the documentary, The Real Patsy Cline, Hughes was piloting the plane in bad weather, wasn’t “instrument-rated,” and relying on visual perception. So, he landed several times on their trip to allow the storm to push ahead of them.

Their last stop for refueling was in Dyersburg, Tennessee, only 90 miles from home. The airport managers there asked them to stay and even made arrangements in case they turned around and came back after they left. But a farmer in Camden, Tennessee soon reported to local police he’d heard the sounds of a plane crash.

According to the documentary, a storm enveloped the plane. So, Hughes was likely unable to see anything above, below, or around them. Eventually, they hit some treetops and crashed into a wooded area.

Hawkshaw Hawkins had another baby on the way

Hawkshaw Hawkins poses for a portrait
Hawkshaw Hawkins | GAB Archive/Redferns

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

41-year-old Harold “Hawkshaw” Hawkins was married to fellow country singer, Jean Shepard, when he died. And she was eight months into her second pregnancy. In an interview, she disclosed Hawkins told her he wanted another baby just like the first and got his wish in their second son, though he never met him.

On the day of crash, Shepard said “the most horrible feeling” she’d ever experienced came over her around the time the plane went down. She just froze and couldn’t move, even thinking for a moment she was going into labor. Eventually, she went to bed and found out about the accident hours later.

While sharing some of her own experience, Shepard also cleared the air on a longstanding rumor — that she disliked Cline. “A lot of people think that during this time I hated Patsy Cline,” she explained. “Now, that’s not the story at all.”

According to her, she “resented the way it was presented,” as if no one but Cline died in the crash. “If that’s wrong, I’m sorry,” she concluded.

She eventually married again and had another child, but said the time of year the crash happened was hard, even after many decades. “It’s never an easy time of year,” she said. “But life has to go on.”

Cowboy Copas’ daughter lost her father and her husband in the crash

Cowboy Copas in a suit and cowboy hat, holding a guitar and smiling
Cowboy Copas | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas was 49 when he died. He was also married and had three children.

His daughter, Kathy Copas Hughes, recalled touring with him as a teenager and getting to hang out backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.

“At 16 years old I had the privilege of traveling with him and really getting to know him,” she said per the People’s Defender. She eventually met and married Hughes, Cline’s manager. So, when she was 28, she lost her husband and father in the same tragedy.

“I just made up my mind that I’m not the only person in the world whose lost two loved ones at the same time,” she said. “I had children to raise and with help and faith, I got through it.”

RELATED: When Dolly Parton Heard Patsy Cline Sing, ‘Nothing Else Registered’ but Her ‘God-Given Voice’