Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesToday marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines and others. Van Zant’s youngest brother, Johnny, who’s been Skynyrd’s lead vocalist since the band reunited in 1987, tells ABC Radio that he wishes his brother had lived to witness the impact the music he helped create has had.

“There was a lot of it here he’s missed,” Johnny notes. “But hey…I believe in God, so I know he’s here in spirit, and I believe in angels too, so I think he’s one of our angels that hang with us every night onstage to get us through this.”

On October 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd chartered a single-engine plane to transport them from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the Southern rockers had scheduled a concert that night. Sadly, the aircraft was under-fueled and crashed in a swampy area of Gillsburg, Mississippi, killing Van Zant, the Gaines siblings, Skynyrd’s road manager and the two pilots.

The band’s other members — guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson, pianist Billy Powell and drummer Artimus Pyle — were seriously injured but eventually recovered. The crash occurred three days after the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fifth studio album, Street Survivors, whose original cover ironically depicted the band standing amid flames.

During the next decade, various Skynyrd members played together in different groups. Then, in 1987, the band re-formed with a lineup featuring most of the surviving members, plus Johnny Van Zant. Since then, several other Skynyrd members have died and the group has undergone many lineup changes, but it continues touring to this day. Rossington is the only original member still in the band.

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