The Untold Story: How Did John Denver Die?


A rescue worker helps bring up the engine and propeller stub, at a Monterey, Calif., pier Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1997, from the plane in which singer John Denver was killed in nearby Pacific Grove Sunday. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

John Denver’s early life

Before learning about how did john denver die, we would look into his early life. Born on December 31, 1943, he got his fame in the ’70s as John Denver. A name that is still remembered with honor in the genre of folk music. He was born in New Mexico. He moved to the United States of America with his father in the ’50s as he joined the United States Air Force. Later he opened a small flying instruction school. Denver learned flying at a young age, a passion he continued his whole life.

 During his early age, he had to move a lot because of his father’s job. He lived in Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, and Texas. It was not easy for Denver to move around. He was an introverted person from a very early age, and this relocating never made him comfortable where he was. As a result, he never recognized his true home until he discovered nature and the outdoors.

In a short interview, he claimed, ‘When I was a child, I felt like I didn’t have many friends. My father was in the Air Force. We moved around a great deal, and I used to go out into the desert, or I’d climb up into a tree, or I’d be up in the mountains, just anywhere that I could get out in nature.’

He received his first Gibson guitar from his grandmother on his 11th birthday. His teenagehood was lonely, but he got to know himself playing guitar. By the time he reached, he was able to perform acoustically at local venues.

Rise to fame

In 1964 he moved to Los Angeles to fulfill his great American dream. He began performing at Leadbetter’s night club. Till this time, his surname was “Deutschendorf.” His long-time friend and carrier advisor Randy Sparks advised him his long surname won’t help him in his career. He changed it to Denver. He took this name from his favorite place in Colorado, which has a strong association with the mountains and things he enjoyed singing. In 1965 he moved to New York. He enrolled in the Chad Mitchell Trio. He beat 250 other candidates who had also auditioned for the role. The band was recognized as “Denver, Boise, and Jhonson” after a few days.

It was around this time he met Anne Martell at a concert in Minnesota. They were dating for a few years and married. He wrote his famous hit song, entitled “Annie’s Song.” He wrote this song in only 10 minutes as he sat on a ski lift.

In 1969 he left the trio band in search of a solo career. 

Prolific Streak

He published his first album, “Rhymes & reasons,” in October of the same year. He wrote the song “Leaving on a jet plane” in this album. This had released three more albums by 1971. He had the first million-selling hit with the fourth album. This album contained his most famous song, “take me home, country roads.” Throughout the decade, he had a streak of hits. Between 1974 and 1975, John Denver prolifically dominated the charts with four no. 1 song and three No. 1 albums.

John Denver’s most significant hit was reaching 10 million sales. 

Decline of John Denver die

Despite his popularity amongst the vast majority, some considered John Denver as a relatively lightweight folk singer. At the ceremony of the 1975 Country music association’s entertainer of the year award Charlie Ruth even burnt the letter containing John Denver’s name.

Despite his popularity amongst the vast majority, some considered John Denver as a relatively lightweight folk singer. At the ceremony of the 1975 Country music association’s entertainer of the year award Charlie Ruth even burnt the letter containing John Denver’s name.

As the 1970s drew to an end, he began to devote himself to wildlife and nature’s humanitarian and sustainability. He even helped NASA further explore the universe. This started a movement curtailing nuclear power. He never regained the same success as he gained in the 1970s. Critics thought he reached the peak of his musical career. 

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The late 1980s and early 1990s were not easy for him. It almost seemed he shattered his goody two shoe image with his hand. He divorced his first wife in 1982. Then he married Cassandra Delaney. They separated in months too.

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In 1993, police arrested John Denver. He was charged with drunk driving. They found him guilty and probated him. A year later, police arrested him again on the same charge, although he was still on probation. After two broken marriages, he became an alcoholic. Because he failed to abstain from alcohol, they banned him from flying planes, which struck him hard.

John Denver die

Amongst this rise and fall, how did John Denver die or is there any chance of John Denver murdered by some criminal? Let’s learn the truth of the question. The day was October 12 of 1997. John was test flying an experimental plane he had recently bought. It was an experimental homebuilt Long-EZ aircraft. The preflight technician report records that Denver was low on fuel at takeoff and that the technician recommended the pilot refuel. He also noted that the fuel selector handle’s positioning would have made it difficult for the pilot to switch tanks. The LA Times published a report of his death saying, “Low fuel, a hard-to-reach handle to switch gas tanks and modifications to his homemade airplane may have figured in the crash that killed singer John Denver last year.” But the details were vague. The reports did not clear John Denver death.

Reason for the plane crash

At first, people thought Denver was drunk because he had a long history of drunken flight and driving. Because of this habit, they seized his flight license. So people thought he had crashed his plane as he was drunk. Some critics thought it was not the reason. He couldn’t control the aircraft because of the faulty model. 

This word on the street that he was drunk was popular and gave his haters another reason to hate him. A medical certificate of 1996 reported he was drunk. The Federal Flying aviation made a public report that he was not holding any license at the time. So the first impression was blaming him for his sobriety failure. If it was not the reason, then how did John Denver die?

But there was still a question, “How did John Denver die” It was Denver’s second flight on the Long EZ. He hired a pilot familiar with the model to train him on the ground. On the day of the tragedy, he took around 30 minutes of instruction on the basis. But the man who made the aircraft modified the fuel system for experimenting. Generally, the fuel button on this should be in front of the pilot near the foot. But the engineer changed and put the switch behind the pilot’s shoulder. So it was a little hard to reach. Some reporters thought it was another reason for the crash. So is this the answer. The real reason was not apparent though it had been around six months. Some trainers claimed John Denver had a record of 10000 hours of flying. He was as good as any pilot who was in the military. John can’t crash for such a minor reason. His family claimed that he often took his sons and wife for a flight with him. And would enjoy the time in the sky. He had skills in doing tricks with aircraft. He would do 360 rolls on his flights without any hesitation. Taking all the notes from his trainers and colleagues on the plane, it was clear that the accident didn’t happen because of novice piloting. But it was proving that John Denver was a pro-level pilot.

Getting back to the day of the incident, a maintenance technician asked him to make a visual check of the fuel levels. But he refused the technician’s recommendation to top up.

Before going high on the sky, Denver earned a series of touch-and-go landings. It consumed plenty of fuel. The technician in charge of fuelling reported that there was only enough fuel in the fuel tank for one take off. But John Denver didn’t take the report seriously and did whatever he thought best to do. 

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The result was the fuel tank was almost empty. All was fine until the plane reached the height above the ocean. When it reached the top peak, the aircraft banked to the right suddenly. This type of aircraft needed fuel flowing through both propellers. So when it was on the limit of its flight, the propeller wasn’t getting any fuel. It stopped working. Only the left propeller was working, so it was falling on the left side. Several people witnessed the accident as it happened close to the shore. 

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The National Transport Safety Board did an official investigation. The investigators concluded that the pilot had most likely lost control of the aircraft after facing issues with the fuel selector, causing it to nose dive into the ocean”. issued their report saying: “The Board determined that the builder’s decision to locate the unmarked fuel selector handle in a hard-to-access position, unmarked fuel quantity sight gauges, inadequate transition training by the pilot, and his lack of total experience in this type of airplane were factors in the accident.”

So as mentioned, the fuel selector button was one of the reasons. Another reason was the unmarked fuel quantity sight. As it was a prototype model, some of the features were incomplete. The designer did not mark the fuel gauge meter. It wasn’t all Denver’s fault to refuse to check the meter. As it was made clear in the report that if he had wanted to check the quantity, he couldn’t narrow it visually. There are more theories on how did John Denver die.

The third reason in the report was severe, though. The aircraft model was reasonably new to the singer. His muscle memories were unable to take quick actions. He couldn’t reach the button in time to pull the reserved fuel. He was inexperienced in the handling section. 

The long-EZ model was quite heavy on the nose side and light on the tail side. When it lost control of the right propeller, the lever controlling the flight got stuck hard. He should have pulled the lever to keep the plane straight. The sudden failure made its nosedive, and Denver was unable to remove the lever. He lost all the controls in mere seconds.

Some conspirators made theories, They wrote it was not an accident but a pre-planned murder. Claiming the victim had problems with his first wife, Annie. They said Annie had access to John Denver’s aircraft hanger. And because of the heat in their relationship during that time, Annie planned to take her revenge for ditching her. She sabotaged the fuel tank and the control panel. But inexperienced to the plane, Denver didn’t notice the sabotage. He flew with confidence. When John noticed the problem, it was too late. He had nothing to do but see his demise with his own eyes.

Though the investigators and the police reports made it clear nobody sabotaged anything. The plane was in proper condition. Engineers made a complete body check of the aircraft carrying Denver. There were no faults in the control panel. Because of the crash, some evidence got destroyed. Some people were predicting that John Denver would be murdered in an accident. They could even know if someone sabotaged but there was nothing. Officers checked the BlackBox in the plane. It didn’t contain any information about malfunction either. So Annie was clean to go and got no verdict of how did John Denver die.

The legacy after John Denver die

 If Denver had refueled before taking off that day, he would not have needed to switch to the reserve tank mid-flight. He wasn’t a novice pilot. It was his blasé attitude to making all the necessary pre-flight checks that ended in tragedy. If he were alive today, he would be making plans for his 76th birthday. New year’s eve would be his day to enjoy. Maybe he is not with us today. But he left a legacy. His legacy music lives on through our hearts. The man of nature mountains and land will never sing, “Country roads, take me home. 

Frequently Ask Questions

Q: How did John Denver die?

A: John Denver died in a plane crash on October 12, 1997.

Q: Where did John Denver’s plane crash occur?

A: The plane crash that resulted in John Denver’s death occurred near Pacific Grove, California.

 Q: Was John Denver the only person in the plane when it crashed?

A: Yes, John Denver was the sole occupant of the aircraft at the time of the crash.

Q: What caused the plane crash that killed John Denver?

A: The exact cause of the plane crash was attributed to factors such as fuel exhaustion and potential control issues.

Q: Did John Denver have any prior aviation experience?

A: Yes, John Denver had been a licensed pilot for many years and was an experienced flyer.

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