How Did Patsy Cline Die? Inside The Plane Crash That Killed A Country Music Icon

Published August 3, 2022
Updated August 16, 2022

While en route to Nashville after playing a benefit concert in Kansas City, Patsy Cline died when her plane nose-dived into the Tennessee wilderness on March 5, 1963.

Shortly before Patsy Cline’s death in a grisly plane crash, the country music star made an eerie prediction. “I’ve had two bad [accidents],” she said to a fellow singer. “The third one will either be a charm or it’ll kill me.”

A week later, Cline climbed into a tiny Piper PA-24 Comanche aircraft after a show in Kansas City, Kansas. She was joined by fellow country music stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, as well as her manager and the pilot, Randy Hughes.

Patsy Cline Death

Wikimedia CommonsPatsy Cline died at the age of 30 on March 5, 1963.

They were supposed to make an easy hop home to Nashville, Tennessee. Instead, Hughes became disoriented in the clouds just thirteen minutes after takeoff. The plane crashed at full speed into the woods of Camden, Tennessee, killing everyone instantly.

The moment Patsy Cline’s plane crash killed her was recorded on her wristwatch — which stopped at 6:20 PM, on March 5, 1963. She was just 30 years old.

The Rise Of A Country Music Legend

By the time Patsy Cline died in 1963, she had made a name for herself as a country music staple. Cline’s songs “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall To Pieces” were chart-toppers. Her song “Crazy,” which was written by a young Willie Nelson, became one of the most played jukebox songs of all time.

Patsy Cline Performing

YouTubePatsy Cline singing “I Fall To Pieces” on February 23, 1963, a few weeks before her death.

But the fame hadn’t come easy. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley on Sept. 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia, Cline had suffered an unhappy and abusive childhood. She left home at 15 in hopes of becoming a professional singer.

“She never knew a note of music,” Cline’s mother later said. “She was gifted — that’s all.”

The stage name “Patsy Cline” came from her first marriage to a man named Gerald Cline and her middle name, Patterson. The marriage was reportedly loveless, however, and ended shortly after Cline found real fame.

It took time — and a new manager named Randy Hughes — but Cline began to make a name for herself. She toured with the Johnny Cash Show in 1962 and played venues like Carnegie Hall. The New York Times critic Robert Shelton raved about Cline’s “convincing way with ‘heart songs.'”

It was around this time that Cline met and married her second and final husband, Charlie Dick, with whom she had two children.

Behind the scenes, however, Cline had begun to feel a strange sense of doom. She shared premonitions of her early death with fellow country stars June Carter and Loretta Lynn. In April 1961, Cline even sketched out her will on a Delta Airlines flight, going as far as to specify her burial outfit.

At the time, Cline was just 28 years old, but she seemed to have an eerie sense of what was to come.

Patsy Cline’s Plane Crash Stuns The World

Small Comanche Plane

Wikimedia CommonsA plane similar to the one in which Patsy Cline died.

Patsy Cline may have had death on her mind, but her final days were full of life. That weekend, she played shows in New Orleans and Birmingham, and then on March 3, she headed to Kansas City for a benefit concert.

There, Cline closed the show with some of her hits — including “She’s Got You,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Crazy,” and “I Fall to Pieces.”

Patsy Cline Final Photograph

Mildred KeithA Kansas City resident named Mildred Keith snapped what is believed to be one of the last photographs of the country music star.

“I will never forget that gorgeous white chiffon dress she wore,” recalled Dottie West, a fellow performer at the show and one of Cline’s friends. “She was just beautiful. [The audience] just screamed and yelled when she did ‘Bill Baily.’ She sang the fire out of it.”

After she finished her performance, Cline returned to her hotel. She tried to fly home to Nashville with Hughes, who was also the plane’s pilot, the next day but heavy fog prohibited them from taking off. West suggested Cline join her and her husband on the 16-hour drive home.

“Don’t worry about me, Hoss,” Cline responded. Eerily, she added: “When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

The next day, Cline boarded Hughes’s plane at the Kansas City Municipal Airport. Accompanying Cline and Hughes were two other country singers, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.

They took off around 2 pm, stopping in Dyersburg, Tennessee to refuel. There, Hughes was cautioned about high winds and low visibility. But he ignored the warning. “I’ve already come this far,” Hughes said. “We’ll be [back in Nashville] before you know it.”

Stopped Watch

Patsy Cline MuseumPatsy Cline died at 6:20 pm, as marked on this watch which broke at the exact moment her plane collided with the earth.

Around 6:07 pm, Hughes, Cline, and the others took to the sky. But then, shortly after takeoff, Hughes became lost in the clouds. Flying blind, he entered a graveyard spiral and accelerated straight downward.

When the crash was discovered the next morning, searchers found a wing embedded in a tree and the engine in a six-foot hole in the ground, suggesting it had plunged head-first into the ground. Everyone had been killed on impact.

Patsy Cline’s Death Reveberates Across The World

Headline After Patsy Cline's Plane Crash

TwitterA newspaper headline shortly before the site of Patsy Cline’s plane crash was discovered.

The death of Patsy Cline shocked the music world.

But although she died young, Cline definitely left her mark on country music. She matched lipstick with pants and cowboy boots, and became the first woman to wear pants on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Cline’s distinctive singing style helped bridge the gap between pop and country music, and in 1973, Cline became the first solo female artist elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Before Patsy Cline’s death, she wondered how she could possibly top her successes of 1962, when she had been named “Top Country Female Singer” by the music vendors of America and Music Reporter dubbed her “Star of the Year.”

“It’s wonderful,” Cline wrote to a friend. “But what do I do for ’63? It’s getting so even Cline can’t follow Cline.”

Patsy Cline didn’t live to see what she could do for 1963. But her star power has only strengthened since her untimely death — and the love for her music endures to this day.

After reading about how Patsy Cline died in a plane crash, check out these photos of when a B-25 Bomber made a wrong turn into the Empire State Building. Then, browse these 44 fabulous pictures of Dolly Parton.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.