Today marks 30 years since Reba McEntire lost seven of her band members and her tour manager in a tragic plane crash.
It was 16 March 1991; the star and her band had performed a private show in San Diego and had two planes waiting at nearby Brown Field Municipal Airport to transport them to Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was the next venue on their schedule. The band members and tour manager flew on ahead in the first plane, while McEntire, her then-husband and manager Narvel Blackstock and her stylist Sandi Spika stayed overnight in San Diego.
But the first plane would never make it to the destination, hitting disaster just ten miles east of the airport.
In an emotional interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2012, Reba tearfully described the events:
“The wing of the airplane hit a rock on the side of Otay Mountain, and it killed everyone on board.
“When we were notified, Narvel met with our pilot and he told us what had happened… He came back to the hotel room where I was, it was two or three o’clock in the morning, and he said one of the planes had crashed.
“I asked him ‘Are they OK?’ and he said ‘I don’t think so’.”
Many of McEntire’s friends including Vince Gill and Dolly Parton offered her their own bands to allow her to complete her tour, but she chose not to continue. Instead, she dedicated her next album ‘For My Broken Heart’ to the band members she had lost. The album reached number one on the Billboard chart and went on to sell over four million copies.
They are just a few of the many country music stars who have died as a result of aircraft crashes.
Buddy Holly was killed on 3 February 1959 when his plane crashed into a field in Mason City, Iowa, shortly after taking off in bad weather. That same accident also killed Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and the pilot Roger Peterson. Waylon Jennings was also due to be on board, but he gave up his seat to allow Big Bopper to travel. The disaster would become known as ‘The Day The Music Died’.
Patsy Cline, one of the first big female stars of country music, died on 5 March 1963 when the plane she was travelling on crashed in heavy rain en route back to Nashville from Kansas City. Country singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, the 50s and 60s star who was married to Jean Shepard, were also killed.
Jim Reeves, one of country’s most influential early singers, died on 31 July 1964 while flying back from Arkansas. He was piloting the plane at the time of the accident which also claimed the life of his manager Dean Manuel.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, a country music and rock band star, died on 20 October 1977 when the band’s chartered plane ran out of fuel and crashed on a flight from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That crash also took several band members, and came just days after the band releases their fifth album ‘Street Survivors’, whose cover depicted the band members standing in front of flames. The album was re-issued with a different cover after the crash.
Ricky Nelson, teen idol, actor and singer, was killed on 31 December 1985 when his private plane crashed near Dallas, Texas, while en route to a New Year’s Eve show. Subsequent investigations concluded the crash was likely due to a faulty heater causing a fire.
John Denver, one of the most popular singers of the 70s, died on 12 October 1997 when his plane ran out of fuel and crashed into Monterey Bay, California.
Troy Gentry, one half of country duo Montgomery Gentry, was the most recent to lose his life; he died on 8 September 2017 in a helicopter crash just hours before he was due to appear at a Montgomery Gentry concert in New Jersey.