Roger Peterson (pilot)
Roger Arthur Peterson (May 24, 1937 – February 3, 1959) was the 21-year-old pilot of the aircraft whose crash took the lives of rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson as well as himself. The event came to be known as "The Day the Music Died".
Peterson was born and raised in Alta, Iowa, the eldest of four children born to Arthur and Pearl Peterson. According to the Civil Aeronautics Board's accident report, by 1959, Peterson had been flying for over four years, receiving his private pilot's certificate in October 1954 and commercial pilot's certificate in April 1958; a short time later he was hired as a pilot for Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa.
On September 14, 1958, Peterson married Deanne Lenz, whom he had been dating since their junior year of high school. The couple resided in Clear Lake, Iowa, a short drive to Mason City, where both worked. In January 1959, Peterson received certification as a limited Flight Instructor, though he was still working on his instrument rating, having accumulated only 52 hours as such and was not rated for night-time flying commercially. Peterson's total flying time was listed in said report as 711 hours' experience; 128 hours were in the type which claimed his life, accumulated while performing local charter flights.
On the evening of February 2, 1959, the manager of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake contacted Peterson to arrange a charter flight from Mason City to Fargo, North Dakota. The Ballroom was hosting the Winter Dance Party and one of the tour's performers, Buddy Holly, wanted to fly ahead of the rest of the tour members, who were traveling by bus. Peterson agreed to take the flight, and when the performers arrived at the airport, he learned that in addition to Holly, his other two passengers would be Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
The plane, a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza (registration number N3794N), took off in light snow from Mason City Airport around 1:00 on the morning of February 3, 1959. The plane turned 180 degrees to the left and aimed north, achieving an altitude of 2000 feet MSL, cleared the airport, turned towards the northwest and faded from view. Moments later the Beechcraft crashed in a cornfield five miles northwest of the airfield, killing Peterson and his three passengers. Peterson's body was found wedged in the plane, the only victim not thrown clear of the wreckage.
The Civil Aeronautics Board concluded that the primary cause of the crash was pilot error due to Peterson's inability to accurately interpret the plane's Sperry F3 attitude indicator which he was forced to rely upon in the prevailing weather conditions. The theory is that Peterson may have read the unusual gyroscope as though it was a conventional gyro and thought that the plane was gaining altitude when it was actually descending, resulting in him encountering spatial disorientation while airborne. Peterson was not certified to fly solely by reference to instruments. A secondary factor was that the pilot had not been informed of adverse flash weather forecasts.
A memorial service for Roger Peterson was held at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, Iowa, on February 5. A funeral was held the next day at St. Paul Lutheran Church in his hometown of Alta; Peterson was buried in Buena Vista Memorial Cemetery in nearby Storm Lake. Peterson's grave site is located at coordinates N 42 39.189 W 095 13.996. Peterson's parents would later receive condolence letters from the families of Holly and Valens.
In June 1988, a four-foot-tall granite memorial bearing the names of Peterson and the three entertainers was dedicated outside The Surf Ballroom with Peterson's widow, parents and sister in attendance; the event marked the first time that the families of Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson had gathered together.
- Amburn, Ellis, Buddy Holly: A Biography, St. Martin's, 1995 ISBN 0-312-13446-0.
- Lehmer, Larry, The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, Schirmer, 1997 ISBN 0-02-864741-6.