December 10, 1967 – Madison, WI
Seven musicians and a pilot were in Redding's twin-engine Beechcraft, which he'd recently
purchased from singer James Brown. Redding was 26, Married with 3 children.
The only survivor was trumpet player Ben Cauley, who was 20 at the time. Cauley was jolted
awake as the plane crashed into Lake Monona about a half mile out from the 4600 block of
Tonyawatha Trail in Monona. Cauley, who couldn’t swim, grabbed a seat cushion and held on
tight. The crash could be heard across the lakefront. The pilot had given no indication of
trouble when he was cleared for landing; the cause of the crash was never determined.
The plane sank rapidly, pulling Redding and several others to the lakebed. Shivering in the
icy water, Cauley heard screams: “Help!” “Help!” He believes they came from Ronnie Caldwell,
19, the organ player, and Carl Cunningham, 18, the drummer. Both men drowned before rescuers
arrived. Madison police officer Ted Mell pulled Cauley out just as he could hold on no
longer. Only two bodies, those of pilot Richard Fraser (26) and Jimmy King, 18, were pulled
from the water that day. Both had been strapped into their seats. The rest were pulled from
the frigid waters over the next two weeks. Two more members of the group didn't make the
Redding was sitting in the cockpit, next to the pilot, strapped into his seat. At some point,
his head hit the control panel, knocking him out.
Otis Redding Memorial, a semi-circle of benches overlooking the lake and a plaque. It was
dedicated Nov 8, 1987 on the Law Park shore of Lake Monona. It now sits atop the Monona
Terrace Convention Center.
“The Factory” a West Gorham Street club (where Canterbury Booksellers & Coffeehouse now
stands) The opening act for this show, Grim Reapers, was an early version of Cheap Trick.
At the show they played a full set and then Rick Neilson announced Otis' plane crash and
people were offered refunds.
Emil Thomas was there, now a Madison deputy chief of police.
Charles Campbell, who was also on duty, was experienced at lake patrol
The lake hadn't iced over, but it was freezing. The day was cold and dreary.
And rumors, such as Redding's body never being found, are now known by most people to be
just that - rumors.
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