December 31, 2015 / 11:36 PM / 4 years ago

Airplane wreckage reminds Texas town of Ricky Nelson's death 30 years ago

DE KALB, Texas (Reuters) - For years, pieces of the DC-3 airplane that crash-landed and burned, killing child TV star and rock legend Ricky Nelson 30 years ago Thursday, rested in a barn in east Texas with no one to claim it.

The tail of the Douglas DC-3 plane owned by rock and roll legend Ricky Nelson is suspended from the ceiling of The Williams House Museum in De Kalb, Texas December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Lisa Bose McDermott

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member died with six other passengers in the New Year’s Eve crash near De Kalb, Texas.

It was one of the biggest events ever in the town of about 1,700 people. The remains of Nelson’s plane sit in a sparsely visited museum as a reminder of the day the town was thrust into the national spotlight.

The anniversary of Nelson’s death, at 45, drew a only few curious visitors, who remembered the pop star who grew up on the TV show “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” that starred his parents.

He later became a teen idol and topped the charts with songs like “Hello Mary Lou” and “Travelin’ Man.”

For a few residents, the anniversary was a time to look back on that day three decades ago.

“We were in the field beside it feeding some cows and then we saw this plane flying real low and smoke was following behind it,” De Kalb resident Randy Barrett said of that day.

It landed in the field beside him. The plane “just ran out of pasture and burned up,” he said.

Also killed in the crash were Nelson’s fiancée, Helen Blair, 27, and bandmates Patrick Woodward, 35; Rick Intveld, 32; Andy Chaplain, 30; Clark Russell, 35, and Bobby Neal, 38.

A National Transportation Safety Board report said a pilot advised air traffic controllers there was smoke in the cockpit and the DC-3 would not be able to reach nearby airports.

While attempting to land, the plane struck transmission wires, a utility pole and ran into trees, damaged by fire and impact, the report said. The pilots escaped through the cockpit windows, but the passengers did not get out.

“I think about it every New Year’s,” said Barrett. “I think about it every time I go that way.”

After the town settled back down, parts of the wreckage remained in the field and years later were placed in a yard next to the Williams House Museum, a converted railroad house displaying town memorabilia.

The museum was given the nod to display the wreckage by some of the band members’ families and later by Nelson’s youngest child, Sam Nelson.

Reporting by Lisa Bose McDermott; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Dan Grebler

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