By Jeff KittsMore than 15 years after Randy Rhoads’ death, many questions raised by the circumstances of his demise remain unanswered. For example, why did the brilliant young guitarist agree to go for a ride in a small, single-engine aircraft, given his admitted fear of flying? Why did the pilot repeatedly buzz the band’s tour bus? Was he attempting to murder his ex-wife, who was standing outside the bus, as some have suggested? Was it a cocaine-fueled kamikaze run? Or just rock and roll high jinks? While the answers to these questions may never be fully known, there are enough details of the incident available today to piece together what happened that fateful morning… though why will it always remain a mystery.
Here are the known facts:
According to an accident report filed by the National Transit Safety Board, Rhoads, 25, Rachel Youngblood, the band’s 58-year-old seamstress and cook, and bus driver Andrew Aycock, 36, a licensed pilot, commandeered a small, single-engine 1955 Beechcraft Bonanza F35 plane sometime between nine and ten a.m. on March 19, 1982. The aircraft had been parked in a hangar at Flying Baron Estates in Leesburg, Florida, where its owner, Jerry Calhoun, owned a house. Aycock, who also owned a home there, reportedly took the plane without permission. The group’s tour bus – a Greyhound-type vehicle with a golden-brown top and white bottom – was parked approximately 60 feet from a Georgian-style mansion adjacent to the airstrip.
Ozzy Osbourne, manager Sharon Arden, and bassist Rudy Sarzo were asleep on the bus at the time of the accident. Keyboardist Don Airey, who was on the bus but awake, witnessed the crash. During the flight, the pilot made three low passes at treetop level in an attempt to "buzz" the tour bus. On the fourth pass, while the plane was flying approximately ten feet above the ground at speeds of 140 and 180 M.P.H., the plane’s left wing collided with the rear of the bus. The bulk of the aircraft crossed over the bus and severed a large pine tree before crashing through the North side wall and roof of the garage on West end of the mansion. The plane exploded and burned on impact with the house, which was also gutted by the ensuing fire. Two vehicles parked inside the garage, an Oldsmobile and a Ford Granada, were destroyed. Visibility conditions were clear and the weather was not a factor in the crash.
The bus was extensively damaged on both its right and left sides. Meanwhile, at the crash site, one victim was found outside the window of the garage, just below where the plane struck the wall. The other two victims were found inside the garage, one beside and one atop the burned-out automobiles. The bodies were burned beyond recognition. Rhoads had to be identified by his jewelry and Aycock through dental records. Fiberglass from the explosive impact of the plane was scattered over more than an acre, with no part of the plane larger than a telephone, except the one crumpled wing, which struck the bus. Toxicology reports conducted on Rhoads and Aycock at the Federal Aviation Administration’s civil aeromedical institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, determined that Rhoads had only nicotine in his system, but no drugs or alcohol. Cocaine was found in Aycock’s urine.
A day after the crash, a shaken Ozzy Osbourne gave a sworn affidavit to the authorities: "At approximately nine a.m. on Friday, March 19, 1982, I was awoken from my sleep by a loud explosion. I immediately thought that we’d hit a vehicle on the road. I got out of bed, screaming to my fiancé, Sharon, ‘get off the bus!’ Meanwhile, she was screaming to everyone else to get off the bus. After getting out of the bus, I saw that a plane had crashed. I didn’t know who was on the plane at the time. When we realized that our people were on the plane, I found it very difficult to get assistance from anyone to help. In fact, it took almost a half-hour before anyone arrived. One small fire engine arrived, which appeared to squirt three gallons of water over the inferno. We asked for further help, such as telephones, and didn’t receive any further help. In the end, we finally found a telephone and Sharon phoned her father."
Randy Rhoads was dead, but mourning for the man who, as Guitar World proclaimed, "could have been the greatest," had only just begun.