A plane carrying rock and roll star Rick Nelson to a New Year's Eve concert crashed and burned in the northeast Texas woods today, killing the 1950s television teen idol, his fiance and the five members of his band.
Two men survived the crash of the twin-engine plane, Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said. Critically burned, they were taken to a hospital in Texarkana, Ark.
Nelson, 45, who gained fame in the 1950s' television show "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," and later pursued a successful pop music career, had been on his way to a concert at Dallas' Park Suites Hotel. A hotel spokesman said the concert was "changed to a 'Tribute to Ricky Nelson.' "
The Douglas DC3 was flying from Guntersville, Ala., to Dallas' Love Field when it crashed about 5:15 p.m. CST in clear weather, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mitch Barker said.
The plane caught fire and apparently was trying to make an emergency landing in a pasture because of a fire aboard the aircraft that filled the cockpit with smoke when it plunged into woods, Texas Public Safety Department spokesman Henry Slatons said.
"Witnesses said the plane was flying low," another DPS spokesman said. "A helicopter flew up along side the plane because it saw the plane was in trouble and asked what problem was.
"They said they had a fire on the plane. There was smoke and it filled up the cockpit. The plane hit some high wires, then crashed into the ground and exploded," she said.
In addition to Nelson, the dead were identified as Helen Blair, 27, the singer's fiance; Patrick Woodward, 35; Andy Chapin, 20; Clark Russell, 35; Bobby Neal, 38, and Rick Intveld, 22.
All but Blair were members of Nelson's band, state trooper Randy Nixon said.
The survivors, identified as pilot Brad Rank and copilot Kenneth Ferguson, were taken to an Arkansas hospital, where they were listed in critical condition with upper-body burns.
Nelson was born in Teaneck, N.J., the younger son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. He won musical fame by singing songs on the television show and made a comeback with "Garden Party" in 1973.
Nelson joined the cast of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" radio show in 1948 at the age of 8. The show moved to television in 1952 and ran for 14 years.
Nelson had more than 40 singles on the charts between 1957 and 1963 and was the first artist to benefit from regular television exposure of his recordings.
Known then as Ricky Nelson, he signed with Verve records in 1956 and produced his first hit, "A Teen-Ager's Romance -- I'm Walking" a year later, followed by "You're My One and Only Love." The songs were introduced on the television show, as were most of his singles.
Other hit records from his early career included "Be-Bop Baby," 1957; "Lonesome Town" and "I Got a Feeling," 1958; "Never Be Anyone Else but You" and "It's Late," 1959; "Travelin' Man" and "Hello Mary Lou," 1961; "Teen-Age Idol," 1962.
In 1963, having dropped the "Y" from his first name to signify maturity, Nelson signed a 20-year contract with U.S. Decca (MCA) and produced an occasional hit. But his career stalled and his band left him.
In 1972, Nelson made the Top 10 with "Garden Party," an autobiographical account of his reception at a performance in New York's Madison Square Garden, and he formed the country-rock Stone Canyon Band. But his popularity again deteriorated and MCA released him from his contract.
Nelson also starred in several movies in the 1950s and '60s, including "Here Come the Nelsons," "Wackiest Ship in the Army," "Rio Bravo," "A Story of Three Loves," and "Love and Kisses."
He married Kristin Harmon, April 20, 1963, and they had four children: Tracy Kristine, twins Gunnar Eric and Matthew Gray, and Sam Hilliard. He later divorced Harmon.
His father, Ozzie Nelson, died in 1975.