Thirty-one years ago, Reba McEntire’s tour manager and seven band members died when their small plane crashed into a mountain near San Diego in the early morning hours following a private concert the icon played for IBM.
It was about 2 a.m. on March 16, 1991, when McEntire got the news. She’s still mourning her lost friends today.
“Once again, the world doesn’t stop for my broken heart,” McEntire posted on her Facebook page today (March 16) with a picture of the band. The line is from her hit song “For My Broken Heart.”
McEntire wrote in her autobiography that the long weekend began on March 14, 1991, with a show in Michigan. She and the band then traveled to the IBM private performance and were due immediately in the Midwest for two more shows. McEntire’s team leased a pair of jets to make travel easier. The planes’ departure location changed on March 15 when road manager Jim Hammon told McEntire’s then-husband and manager, Narvel Blackstock, that the airport they were supposed to leave from following the show had an 11 p.m. curfew. Since the show wasn’t likely to be over until after 10 p.m., he was concerned about the timeframe.
The autobiography says that Blackstock had the planes moved to a private airport with no curfew so the band could leave at its leisure. McEntire wasn’t feeling well and opted to fly out the next day. The singer wrote that she could recall every detail of the night, including Hammon walking her and Blackstock back to their suite before joining the others on the ill-fated plane.
Their private pilot, Roger Woolsey, called the suite at 2 a.m. to tell them he was driving back from the airport when he saw a ball of fire in his rearview mirror. He knew a plane had crashed, but he didn’t have more details.
They eventually learned Hammon, keyboardist and bandleader Kirk Cappello, fellow keyboardist Joey Cigainero, drummer Tony Saputo, guitarists Michael Thomas and Chris Austin, bassist Terry Jackson and backup singer Paula Kaye Evans, and two pilots, Donald Holmes and Christopher Hollinger, were killed around 1:45 a.m. when the jet’s left wing hit part of 3,500-foot Otay Mountain causing the plane to crash.
“The planes took off three minutes apart,” McEntire spokesperson Trisha McClanahan told the LA Times immediately following the crash. “The plane that crashed took off first. The pilot of the second plane didn’t see anything. They just knew that they had lost radio contact with the other. They continued flying and were diverted to Nashville.”
While some reports stated that rainy and windy weather was to blame for the crash, the two pilots were faulted for being unfamiliar with the area and an FAA specialist for providing faulty directions before takeoff in the official NTSB report.
“She was very close to all of them (the band members). Some of them had been with her for years,” said Jennifer Bohler, another McEntire spokeswoman. “Reba is totally devastated by this. It’s like losing part of your family. Right now she just wants to get back to Nashville.”
Recently, McEntire told I Miss…90s Country Radio with Nick Hoffman on Apple Music Country that the tragedy made her reevaluate her life.
“I didn’t know if it was God’s way of jerking my chain, saying slow down,” the 66-year-old said. “I’m not going to put that on him. It just happened. I don’t know why. Things happen for a reason. That’s one of the questions I’m asking when I get up there. But afterward, it made us really focus on day by day, instead of what are we going to do tomorrow? What are we going to do next year? Don’t even think about the past. Don’t even think about the future. Focus on the day that you have and enjoy it while you have it.”
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