Ozzy Osbourne was sleeping in his tour bus when he heard the crash. He later told investigators, “At approximately 9:00 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 the bed, screaming to my fiancée, 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 assistance, such as telephones, and didn’t receive any further help. In the end, we finally found a telephone.”
What Osbourne didn’t know, at first, was that his lead guitarist, Randy Rhoads, one of the most promising stars of the heavy metal world—he’d already enjoyed a successful stint with Quiet Riot before joining Ozzy in 1979—was on the small 1955 Beechcraft plane. He also didn’t know, until later, that the crash was completely avoidable, the result of a foolish stunt gone wrong.
Rhoads, only 25 at the time, was part of the touring band when it stopped overnight in Leesburg, Florida, en route to Orlando, to fix the air conditioning unit on the bus. While the others were asleep on the bus, Rhoads boarded the small single-engine plane—which sat on an adjacent airstrip—piloted by Andrew Aycock. Aycock had already flown keyboardist Don Airey and tour manager Jake Duncan without incident and next invited Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood to go for a ride.
For whatever ill-advised reason, the trio thought it might be fun to “buzz” the tour bus. The first two times went smoothly, but on the third swoop, Aycock misjudged his distance. One of the plane’s wings clipped the bus, sending the aircraft spiraling. It then skimmed the top of a tree before hitting a garage, killing all three on board. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Toxicology tests later revealed that Aycock (whose pilot license had expired) had been taking cocaine all night prior to the crash. In Rhoads’ system, no drugs were found.
He left his mark on albums by Quiet Riot and Osbourne (including Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman) and left fans wondering what might have been.
Related: That time that Ozzy went batty
Watch Ozzy and band (including Rhoads) perform “Mr. Crowley” in 1981
Watch a TV news report of Rhoads’ death