December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997
John Denver was renting a home nearby in Monterey, and he purchased this particular plane the day before the accident. It was called a “Long-Eze,
serial number 54, number 228vs.” It was a two-seated fiberglass plane that had originally been built from a kit a few years earlier. Denver had already flown the plane into Monterey from Santa Maria, and on that particular Sunday afternoon he wanted to take it on a test spin down the coast. Denver had practiced three touch and go landings – in which he swooped down to the runway and then pulled back up – before receiving the permission from the Monterey Airport to take the plane on the test spin. It was October 12, 1997.
This is what he was wearing: a baseball hat with “Yuma Rod and Gun Club” on it, green Haggar trousers (size 32/32), a multi color sweater, black jockey shorts (eww), cowboy boots and dark socks.
The 53-year-old singer’s last words were a calm query about whether he had transmitted a four-digit code clearly. “Do you have it now?”
It was 5:28 p.m., and he was about 150 feet from shore, and 500 feet above the ocean when eyewitnesses heard a popping sound. A second or two later, they watched in horror as the plane plunged straight down into the water and broke apart on impact. Within 3 minutes, seagulls had reached the scene. Yum. I hate those things. Winged bowel movements, if you ask me, and you were going to, weren’t you? They found bits of John Denver floating in the debris about 20 minutes later. He was so badly mutilated that all they could tell was that it was a male. They scooped up what they could find in multiple garbage bags, but what was left weighed only 128 pounds. Here’s a list of what ended up forever fish food:
His brain, his teeth, his eyes, for that matter, 75% of his head was missing. Also gone were his right hemipelvis, and right thigh, one lung and his gallbladder. His left arm was missing, but they found it an hour or so later.
Parts of the plane continued to wash up for quite awhile,
and here’s mine,
thanks to a good friend in the right place at the right time. Another addition to my hall of shame, thank you very muchrocio.
Ultimately, the cause of the crash was the fact that Denver failed to refuel the tank. That, plus a lack of training. It seems that he was distracted from flying while trying to grab a handle controlling fuel flow. Experts think he spent the last moments of his life trying frantically to switch from this main tank to the reserve one, not realizing that they were both empty. Whoops.
They cremated what was left of him, and a representative of Parker Funeral Home took the ashes personally to Colorado. His funeral was held on Friday, October 17th, at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Aspen, Colorado. Over 2000 people, and John Denver’s horse Tonto showed up to the tribute, which included six airplanes flying overhead, rocking their wings in a salute. Didn’t anyone see the irony? Everyone agreed that Denver was a plane down to earth kind of guy. Okay, I was good up until this point, wasn’t I?
Findadeath.com friend Ken Wert sends us this:
For a guy who died in a plane crash, notice the many references to flight – creepy? Let the FAD readers decide:
I’ve seen it rain and fire in the sky…..
In Memory of
Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.
aka John Denver
Born: December 31, 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico
Died: October 12, 1997 in Monterey, California
Friday, October 17, 1997, 10:00 AM
Faith Presbyterian Church
11373 E. Alameda Avenue
Pastor Les Felker Officiating
Organ Prelude…….Nancy Thompson
Special Music….. “On The Wings of a Dream”
Scripture: Psalm 121 and I Corinthians 15:35-44 and 51-55
Special Music…..”High Flight”
Expressions of Love…..Family and Friends
Special Music…..”Perhaps Love”
Meditation – Sunset at Noon
Postlude….”The Wings That Fly Us Home”
Arrangements were made by Parker Funeral Home, Inc.
10325 Parkglenn Way
Parker, CO 80138
Trivia: Denver desperately wanted to be the first civilian in space, and came very close to being booked on the ill fated Challenger Shuttle flight.
More Trivia: Friend of Findadeath Jeff Alderman of Virginia shared a fact with me that I’d forgotten: “In the mid 1970’s, the USA was in the midst of a gas crisis, and Denver briefly became something of a spokesperson for gasoline conservation, and the use of alternate forms of transportation. It was surprising then, when it came to light that he had installed a couple of huge gasoline tanks underground in the backyard of his home – there would be no waiting in gas lines for Mr. Denver.” Thanks Jeff!
This just in, January 2003, from Findadeath friend Tonya:
At the very end of the John Denver piece, Jeff talks about JD being a gas conservationist. How ironic that he buried two gas tanks in his yard, but forgets to check his fuel in his plane. This, of course, leads to his demise. Those gas tanks sure would have come in handy, huh?
This John Denver piece actually contains many weird coincidences.
UPDATE January 2004, from Findadeath friend Gary Orr: One of John Denver’s biggest hits, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was played at the Baltimore Orioles home
games. Always at the 7th inning stretch. He came to perform it live, here in Baltimore, not long before he died. Fans here went crazy for the song if the Orioles were winning or losing the game. I believe the song is still played randomly during the stretch.
UPDATE March 2005, from Findadeath friend Russell:
Here is some additional information with regard to your John Denver posting.
1) The tanks intended to store gasoline on his property in the 70’s were
never fully installed, and were removed soon after all the controversy over
them was generated.
2) According to the official report into the investigation into the cause of
his plane crash, it was the fuel selector switch that was the main
contributing factor. In order to avoid having a fuel line running underneath
the pilot seat, the first owner and builder of the aircraft had changed the
design, and installed the selector switch in the wall behind the pilot’s
left shoulder, rather than in in the dashboard.
3) This switch had a sticky O-ring in it, and that combined with its
location made it hard to turn in flight. John and his mechanic had tried
attaching a vice-grip to the switch, but it would not stay in place and kept
falling off. John employed the use of a hand-held mirror to help locate the
valve. He also had a feather pillow behind his back, in order to make the
rudder peddles easier to reach, (he was 6 feet tall). When some of these
feathers were found at the crash sight, they led to speculation that the
plane had hit a bird.
4) Although the fuel in both tanks was low, there was enough fuel aboard for
him to complete the flight he had in mind. In order to turn the fuel
selector switch once the first tank ran dry, John would have had to unbuckle
his safety harness and reach around behind with the vice-grip. A recreation
of the crash proved that in doing this his right foot would have pressed
down on the rudder peddle, causing the plane to dive and stall. By the time
he would have turned around, he would have lost his visual horizon, and only
have had a matter of seconds to bring the aircraft back into control.
5) John Denver’s family won a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the fuel
Also March 2005, from Findadeath friend Murray:
Not that I’m a big John Denver fan, but I want to
clear up something about his death:
It’s generally accepted that his death was due to
pilot error because of his lack of familiarity with
the aircraft. However, the aircraft was homebuilt, and
the builder (not Denver) placed the critical fuel
control valve in a very difficult to use position.
Denver was flying an unfamiliar aircraft (he had just
purchased it or was in the process of doing so) at a
low altitude, had an engine sputter typically
associated with low fuel, went to change the valve
position to a new tank, and in doing so, lost control
of the aircraft. Given the location of the valve, his
loss of control is not surprising. The recommended
position for the valve is on the control panel in
front of the pilot, whereas the plane’s valve as built
was behind the pilot, over his left shoulder. In the
small cockpit, the valve was not visible without
turning and looking over the pilot’s left shoulder.
A more detailed description is at this site,
relevant portions copied below:
The Bad Interface
John Denver’s aircraft had a fuel selection valve with
only three positions: Off, Left, and Right. Burt
Rutan’s design called for that valve to be placed on
the front panel of the aircraft, making it easy to
switch among the options. The builder of the aircraft,
however, elected to place the valve back behind the
pilot’s left shoulder. He did so with the best of
intentions. By placing the valve behind the pilot’s
compartment, on the other side of the back firewall,
with only a long rod leading to the handle behind the
pilot’s left shoulder, he avoided running the gas
lines through the passenger compartment, eliminating
any possibility of a gasline rupture occuring inside
He did so, however, at a terrible cost to the human
interface, because the only way to switch tanks was to
let go of the controls, twist your head to the left to
look behind you, reach over your left shoulder with
your right hand, find the valve, and turn it. As the
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
discovered, it was difficult to do this without
bracing yourself with your right foot-by pressing the
right rudder pedal all the way to the floor. And
that’s what killed John Denver. His plane was seen
veering to the right and plunging into the ocean from
only a few hundred feet up, consistent with the NTSB’s
Making things worse
The fuel: Denver had three ways to ensure he had
enough fuel. Evidence suggests he made use of two of
He had fuel gauges in the rear of the aircraft, behind
the pilot, and a mirror (!) used to look at them.
However, the fuel gauges were not linear and had no
markings to indicate that apparently half-full was
really close to empty.
He dipped a rod into the fuel tanks while pre-checking
the plane before flight to test the fuel level. He may
not have been aware, however, that, because of the way
the Long-EZ rests, the fuel tends to slosh toward the
fuel tank filler port, giving a highly-optimistic
The third method is adding fuel to the tanks, which
Denver failed to do. Because the Long-EZ has very
large tanks, the common practice is to add an amount
of fuel suffient for the flight, plus a healthy
margin. It may be John Denver was told not to fill the
tanks, but was not told of this partial-filling
The valve: The builder not only placed the valve in a
non-standard location, he also rotated it in such a
way that turning the valve to the right turned on the
left fuel tank. This ensured that a pilot unfamiliar
with the aircraft, upon hearing the engine begin
missing and spotting in his mirror that the left fuel
tank was empty, would attempt to rotate the fuel valve
to the right, away from the full tank, guaranteeing
Lessons to be Learned
John Denver learned the biggest lesson of all, even if
he only had a few seconds to appreciate it: Let the
User Beware! And, indeed, the NTSB, as per its long
history of setting aside findings, human factors or
otherwise, that might conflict with a verdict of pilot
error, ruled that the responsibility for this crash
lay with the pilot. The interface was relegated to a
mere “factor.” Had John Denver fueled his aircraft in
spite of evidence indicating he had sufficient fuel,
had he somehow managed to thoroughly familiarize
himself with the idiosyncrasies of this
uniquely-assembled experimental aircraft sans manual,
he would be alive and well today.
However, to those of us versed in even rudimentary
human factors, it is easy to see that the design of
this fuel system was a disaster waiting to happen, as
was borne out not only by what Denver experienced, but
by incidents reported by two previous pilots of this
same plane who almost met death under the same
circumstances. Presumably, they had a bit more
altitude when their fuel starved out and, therefore, a
bit more time to react.
Anyway, came across some information on the late John Denver that I thought you might find interesting:
1) The reason he was practicing touch and go landings that day was because he was planning to buzz Clint Eastwood’s place up in Carmel–apparently they were good buddies.
2) He was worth about $7 million at the time of his death, but guess who forgot to write a will? Eventually the estate was divided among his three kids, but recently there was a story in the Aspen newspaper about the IRS trying to get $2.5 million in back taxes from his estate. His two oldest kids are fighting it.
3) In the long list of ex-spouses trying to cash in when their famous ex buys it, add the name of Cassandra Delaney. This is John’s second ex (the first was the famous Annie from “Annie’s Song”) who was a minor actress/singer in Australia. Even though they’d been divorced for four years prior to his death and that by all accounts the divorce was ugly, she’s STILL playing the bereaved widow five years later, busily selling her story to Australian tabloids while trying to get her music “career” started. She still calls herself Cassandra Delaney Denver, too. If you go to her website (www.cassandramusic.com), you can hear her awful MP3s. She tried very hard to get her own piece of John’s estate, but eventually had to settle for her kid’s share. You can start a most interesting flamefest on a Denver website just by mentioning her name, since his fans consider her to be a complete whore.
I was bored one night and found out all this stuff while surfing the Web–which, come to think of it, was how I found Find A Death in the first place! Anyway, keep up the good work!