When celebrities have harrowing brushes with the grim reaper, it always captivates the public. However, the fatal plane crash that took the lives of seven members of Reba McEntire's band in 1991 was a tragedy that haunts the singer to this day. The story of how McEntire narrowly missed being on the flight is tragic and highlights how easy it is to lose everything in a single moment.
Reba McEntire is a country music singer who was at her most famous in the late 1980s and early 1990s, right when the event occurred. At the time, she was one of country music's top female artists, along with other powerhouses like Dolly Parton. The devastating event had a huge impact on McEntire's life, and led her to dedicate her next album to the members of the band she lost on that fateful day. She continued to pay tribute to them throughout her career.
- Photo: I Know How He Feels / MCA
Seven Members Of McEntire's Band Perished When Her Private Plane Went Down - But She Wasn't On It
On March 15, 1991, McEntire and her band performed for IBM executives in San Diego. They were then scheduled to fly to Indiana late that night. McEntire chartered two private planes for her band members to fly on, but sadly, the aircraft carrying seven of her band members and her tour manager crashed almost immediately after taking off. Everyone on board lost their lives.
The second plane, which carried two other band members, took off with no knowledge of the tragic event and was diverted to Nashville.
McEntire, her husband, and her stylist were not aboard the planes because the singer was ill. She planned to remain in San Diego overnight and fly to Indiana one day after her band.
- Photo: The Last One to Know / MCA
A Case Of Bronchitis Might Have Saved McEntire's Life
McEntire would've been on one of the two planes flying out of San Diego if she hadn't decided to stay an extra night.
McEntire remained behind to recover from a case of bronchitis, wanting to rest before her next scheduled performance.
- Video: YouTube
McEntire's Husband Was The First Person To Tell Her What Happened
McEntire's husband, Narvel Blackstock, and stylist, Sandy Spika, stayed behind with her in San Diego, avoiding the fatal flight. It was Blackstock who broke the news to McEntire at three in the morning.
McEntire later recounted the incident on an episode of Oprah's Master Class:
When we were notified, Narvel went and met with our pilot, and he told us what had happened. And Narvel 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 have crashed, and I said, "Are they okay?" He said, "I don't think so." I said, "But you're not sure?" He said, "I don't think so."
The Plane Collided With A Mountain Moments After Take Off
McEntire's band departed on two planes, the first departing only three minutes before the second.
After taking off from Brown Field just outside of San Diego, the plane was at an altitude of 3,330 feet. Its wingtip hit the 3,500-foot-tall Otay Mountain, causing the aircraft to somersault multiple times, scattering debris over a large area.
The weather was apparently calm, with clear skies and low winds, according to a nearby airport.
The Pilots Communicated With A Flight Service Specialist Numerous Times Before Takeoff
It was clear from the beginning that the pilots weren't confident before takeoff. The head pilot communicated with a flight service specialist three times before departure. When asked if he was familiar with the departure procedures, the pilot responded, "No, not really."
The specialist read the procedure to the pilot, who assured him that it was all he needed to fly safely. Neither the flight specialist nor the pilot accounted for the rising mountainous terrain just east of the airport. When the pilot suggested flying under 3,000 feet, the specialist agreed, despite the mountain being 3,500 feet tall.
The Pilots Were Blamed For The Tragedy
The cause of the impact was officially deemed to be pilot error. It was quickly discovered that the pilots were unfamiliar with the terrain as well as the aircraft.
The official report stated there were numerous causes for the event, but that they all had to do with pilot error. Those included "improper planning," the head pilot's inability to reach proper altitude prior to reaching the mountain, and the co-pilot's failure in monitoring the flight's progress. The report also indicated darkness was part of the issue.