The Day the ‘Music’ Thrived and Taking a Safety Culture to New Heights

The Day the ‘Music’ Thrived and Taking a Safety Culture to New Heights

By | February 3, 2021

Because of Don McLean’s “American Pie” lyrics, most people remember the tragedy that took place on Feb. 3, 1959, as the “day the music died.” But, of course, music can never really die in the traditional sense as long as it is played and enjoyed by audiences over and over, generation after generation.

That holds true for the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson—the three talented musicians who perished alongside their pilot in a plane crash that occurred on a snowy night in Iowa where the visibility was poor at best.

As history tells us, there were several fateful occurrences that night before the tragedy took place, including the moment when Valens, who was afraid of flying, won a coin flip to get access to the last seat on the plane rather than having to spend another night shivering on a long bus ride to his next destination. The teenage rock ’n’ roll sensation and his fellow passengers never got the chance to perform that next gig as the plane crashed shortly after takeoff.

The 21-year-old pilot was flying a 12-year-old aircraft in difficult conditions that fateful night, and a National Safety Transportation Board investigation found that he was not trained to pilot an airplane in that type of inclement weather. “The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely by instruments when he was not properly certificated or qualified to do so,” the report said.

From left: J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens

This tragic story came to mind when I read that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) had released a new comprehensive Safety information website to allow pilots to get the insights they need all in one place rather than having to spend time searching for information housed in various online resources. For example, there’s a whole section on collision avoidance to help ensure pilots have the information they need to minimize the risk of in-air collisions, and there’s one section that talks about proper maintenance and renovation for aging aircraft.

In the world of Safety, there’s no question that hindsight is 20/20. If you could change the pathway that led to an incident, you would—but, no matter what you do to prevent future incidents, you can’t change the outcome of an accident after the fact. Any incident that turns out to be catastrophic becomes even more painful to think about when you consider “what could have been.”

“Something touched me deep inside/
The day the music died.”

Don McLean, “American Pie”


No one wants to think that a tragedy can happen to their organization, but, as we see time and time again, major incidents continue to happen. In the past 20 years, according to Marsh, the combined losses from the largest refining and petrochemical events alone totaled some $28 billion (and $4.5 billion of the largest losses in the energy industry occurred between 2018 and 2019).


E-bookBuilding a Resilient Safety Strategy
As the pace of change accelerates, infrequent, incomplete inspections and outdated, siloed data will simply not be enough.


The AOPA’s decision to group information in one place makes perfect sense. It allows the right people to get the right information at the right time. Having workers follow Safety procedures in place and ensuring your workforce is following them is a key component of creating a leading Safety Culture as is encouraging workers to speak up should conditions warrant caution. Adding cutting-edge software and technology allows organizations to access . As we said in our 2017 post, companies must take a page out of the medical field’s playbook by following the mantra: “First, do no harm.”

Some Innovations in Airplane Safety

  1. Fireproof seat cushions
  2. Mountain sensors
  3. Pilot fatigue monitoring
  4. Power-generating windmills for if an aircraft loses power midflight
  5.  Sensors that measure visibility in meters to help with low-visibility conditions
  6. Pilots reports of weather, or PIREPS, help pilots plan for and alternate their flight plans based on incoming or current inclement weather

Sources: Conde Nast Traveler, and

As for the three musicians who died so many years ago, we’ll never know what songs could have been written had their plane not gone down; so much was lost that can never be recovered in the aftermath of the tragedy.

However, we do know that companies can change their tune when it comes to talking about a top-flight Safety Culture and actually making it so. If that occurs, it’ll be like the day the “music” thrived within their organization.


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Sphera is the leading provider of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and risk management software, data and consulting services with a focus on Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability (EHS&S), Operational Risk Management and Product Stewardship.
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