5 Years Ago: Prince’s Final Flight Makes an Emergency Landing
A private plane chartered to fly Prince from Atlanta back to his home in Minneapolis unexpectedly landed for a medical emergency on April 15, 2016.
“Chicago, send us an ambulance,” the pilot requested when the flight was an hour away from its destination. There was an unresponsive male on board. Prince’s name was never used in the request for assistance.
EMTs met the flight at Quad City International Airport in Moline, Ill., where the flight made an emergency landing at 1:17AM after descending 45,000 feet in 17 minutes. Prince was given two shots of Narcan in the ambulance, it was later reported. The first, to the surprise of the EMTs, didn’t rouse him. After the second shot, there was a gasp from Prince as he finally awoke.
Just the night before, the iconic musician had played two shows in Atlanta. The dates were rescheduled after he’d canceled earlier in the month, which representatives had blamed on a bout with the flu. In reality, members of his inner circle would report that he was complaining of pains in his hands that made performing extremely difficult. The audiences for those shows, at the famed Fox Theater, got to see just Prince and his piano. He played a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that night, a salute to another icon who passed in January of 2016, only a few months earlier. Audience members said he sounded a little hoarse at points, but that overall it was a great show and Prince seemed to know when he’d nailed a number or a move. No one imagined the 10PM show would be his last.
On the plane with Prince that night his protégée, Judith Hill. The two were chatting and eating food when she noticed something was wrong. “His eyes fixed,” Hill recalled to the New York Times. Seconds later, the iconic musician was unconscious.
In hindsight, Hill recalled that Prince wasn’t feeling well the night of his concerts in Atlanta. Backstage after the first show, she said that Prince told her “maybe…I’ve done all I’m supposed to do here on this Earth” and that he found life “incredibly boring.” Janelle Monáe and Cee Lo Green stopped by to say hello, then after the second show Prince joked to Hill that he nearly fell asleep on stage — a comment she found to be “very out of character.”
Back on the plane, Hill grabbed Prince’s longtime friend and former backing dancer Kirk Johnson. The man shook Prince to try and rouse him, but got no response. They could feel a heartbeat, but it seemed irregular. Hill later told police that in that moment, she thought Prince was dead. “We knew it was only a matter of time; we had to get down,” Hill admitted. “We didn’t have anything on the plane to help him.”
Thanks to the emergency landing and aid from paramedics, Prince was revived. Johnson later confirmed to the police that he found pills in Prince’s travel bag on the plane. He also told them Prince had complained of tingling in his arms and feeling dehydrated in the week leading up to the flight.
After checking into Trinity Medical Center, Prince refused further tests. According to Hill, the singer told her that he’d taken two types of pills, mixing medications in a way he hadn’t before, and that he thought it was what caused the overdose. When she asked him if he was going to give up the pills, he said no because it meant he wouldn’t be able to bear the pain in his hands enough to play music.
At the time, Prince’s representatives attributed the entire incident to a case of the flu in a statement to the press. After a few hours in Illinois, Prince and his private jet returned to Minneapolis. He would die of an accidental overdose in his home days later, on April 21, 2016.