From a reported 1978 drift-off at sea to two '90s plane mishaps, Buffett experienced a lot in his 76 years
Jimmy Buffett saw a lot in his 76 years.
The "Margaritaville" singer, whose death was announced on social media Saturday, didn't just spend his time at the titular location of his hit song. Instead, he traveled the world on boats and planes he piloted. And in those travels, he had multiple apparent near-death experiences.
Before his death this week, Buffett had at least three experiences where he could've lost his life had things gone differently — from drifting off on a boat in the '70s to two plane mishaps in 1994 and 1996, the latter with Bono on board as well.
What may be Buffett's first known near-encounter with death came in 1978, as music writer Ryan White wrote in his book Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way, per the Daily Mail , that the musician was on his sailboat in San Salvador at the time and anchored in a cove. A cigarette boat stopped to use Buffett's radar, and he gave them approval if he could drive their "go fast" boat, per the Mail.
After partying on a nearby sailboat and sleeping in his boat's dinghy (usually a rowboat attached to a larger boat), he reportedly drifted out and woke up surrounded by water. But eventually, the cigarette boat and a "mother ship loaded with drugs" found him, per the Mail, and pointed him in the direction of land.
Less than two decades later, Buffett had another bizarre run-in when a sea plane he was piloting almost capsized while taking off, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Grumman G-44 Widgeon sea plane was leaving Nantucket Island in Massachusetts with only Buffett on board when it flipped after hitting a wave. Buffett was able to escape the plane and swim to a passing boat, with local police sharing with the outlet at the time that the singer-songwriter had "no visible injuries but complained of pain." Emergency room nurse Donna Fleming added that Buffett left "fine" and "walked out with friends."
“I’m still flying, but I have a safer plane now,” Buffett told the Boston Globe in 1995. “For a while I got introspective about it, but you’ve got to get back up. I called a therapist I’d seen off and on in California to tell him about it — and to say I was having flashbacks — but the week before, the therapist had also ditched his plane. Boy, did we have one heck of a therapy session!”
“Once you’ve had a near-death experience, it does affect you,” Buffett also said. “I remember this one. I had another near-death experience when I was 19 and was at the bottom of the ocean, but I was too drunk to care about it.”
Just two years after his plane crash, Buffett experienced another plane mishap — this time reportedly with U2 frontman Bono, Bono's family and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell all on board.
In January 1996, Jamaican authorities reportedly mistook Buffett's Hemisphere Dancer plane for a drug-smuggling operation and shot at it, according to Taste of Country. After Buffett landed in Negril to share some jerk chicken with passengers, police opened fire as passengers — including Bono and his family — had to reportedly duck for cover while starting to disembark. The outlet notes that no injuries were reported, and while Bono left Jamaica, Buffett stayed behind to speak with authorities.
Buffett later released the song "Jamaica Mistaica" in reference to the ordeal. "Come back, come back back to Jamaica," he sang on the track. "Don't you know we made a big mistaica. We'd be so sad if you told us good-bye. And we promise not to shoot you out of the sky."
MTV reported in May 1996 that authorities eventually apologized to Bono and Buffett. Bono opened up about the incident, which included his wife Ali and their children Jordan and Eve (then aged 3 and 6) in 2009 during an interview with the Belfast Telegraph. "These boys were shooting all over the place," Bono shared.
“I felt as if we were in the middle of a James Bond movie — only this was real. It was absolutely terrifying and I honestly thought we were all going to die," he added. "Thank God we were safe and sound. My only concern was for their safety. It was very scary, let me tell you. You can't believe the relief I felt when I saw the kids were okay.”
"There are two rules in rock and roll, I've found," Buffett later told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live in 2018 while reflecting on the incident. "Never forget to duck and never forget you can go to hell at any minute."
On Saturday, a statement posted on Buffett's website and social media channels confirmed his death, noting that he "passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs."
"He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many," the statement concluded.
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