WASHINGTON — Federal investigators concluded today the 1985 New Year Eve plane crash that killed singer Rick Nelson and six other people was caused by a fire around a heater--not by free-basing of cocaine.
The National Transportation Safety Board, releasing its report on the crash of the World War II-vintage DC-3, said while it could not establish that the blaze started in the cabin's gasoline-fueled heater, "There is no doubt that the fire did originate in the area of the heater."
The singer, his fiancee and five band members were killed when the plane made an emergency landing in a cow pasture near De Kalb, Tex. The pilot and the co-pilot survived.
Toxicological tests done on Nelson, who was 45 at the time of his death, showed he had small amounts of cocaine in his body along with the pain killer Darvon. There was widespread speculation at the time that free-basing of the drug--the mixing of the drug with flammable ether or ammonia--may have started the fire.
But the safety board study made no mention of the drug in its final report on the crash and a spokesman said investigators could find no evidence that the fire was caused by free-basing.