The Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches features two runways. One is 5,100 feet long and designed to accommodate corporate jets. The other is 4,000 feet long, 100 feet wide, and handles most of the private and recreational aviation. On September 20, 1973, a chartered Beechcraft E18S was prepared for an evening flight. Pilot Robert Elliot was ferrying touring rock singer Jim Croce and accompanying performer Maurice (Maury) Muehleisen and comedian George Stevens to Sherman, Texas, for another performance. Also on board were road manager Dennis Rast and publicist Kenny Cortese. The craft failed to gain sufficient altitude and struck a tree at the end of the runway. All on board perished in the crash.
Croce had emerged from South Philly three years earlier as a new force in popular music. His initial album, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” had sold well (as did the single of the same name), and the follow-on effort “Life and Times “ established Croce as a distinct voice. In the summer of 1973 his breakout single “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown” sold 2 million copies to top the charts. A new single, “I Got a Name,” was slated for release on September 21. The crash sparked tremendous interest in Croce’s music. Three months after his death, the release of the album “I Got a Name” went to #9 on the Billboard charts, and the release of “Time In a Bottle” as a single went to #1, making Croce the third pop singer to hit #1 posthumously (the others were Otis Redding and Janis Joplin).
Initial NTSB speculation was that pilot Elliot had suffered a coronary during the takeoff, but the final report places the blame for the crash solely on pilot error.
A popular vocalist of the 1930s and 1940s, Buddy Clark was born Samuel Goldberg in Dorchester, MA in 1912. He started singing while he was still in law school. He changed his name to Buddy Clark in 1934 and got his big break on Benny Goodman's Let's Dance radio show. He also became a regular on Your Hit Parade radio show from 1936 until 1938. In the spring of 1947, Clark, now signed to Columbia Records, topped the charts for two weeks with the single "Linda" Clark was on a private plane flight, on his way to a football game, when it crashed near Los Angeles. A month after the crash, Clark had his final chart hit with "A Dreamer's Holiday."