31 years ago today, seven of her band members, as well as her tour manager, were tragically killed in a plane crash flying from a show near San Diego, California. They had performed for a group of IBM executives, and had planned to go straight from there to Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Her tour manager Jim 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, as well as the two pilots, Donald Holmes and Christopher Hollinger, were all killed that day.
Reba almost ended up on the plane, as well, but had decided last minute to stay the night in San Diego because she was still dealing with a bout of bronchitis. Her then-husband, Narvel Blackstock, and stylist, Sandy Spika, stayed the night with her, as well.
The rest of her crew left in two separate planes from a private airport, but the first of the two that took off crashed just 10 minutes from the airport.
The tragic incident led her to write an album, For My Broken Heart, dedicated to her beloved band and crew members, which she added in the liner notes was:
“A form of healing for all our broken hearts.”
In her 1994 autobiography Reba: My Story, she says that she was jolted awake at 2AM by her hotel phone ringing. At first, she thought an excited fan had gotten the number to her room, or that someone possibly had the wrong number.
But it was Roger Woolsey on the other line, Reba’s pilot, who wanted Narvel to come up to his room immediately. Roger quickly got dressed to go up there, and he couldn’t even answer any of Reba’s questions about what was going on as he hurried up to get more details.
She recounted some of the details from that night in her book:
“I sat upright in bed. I wouldn’t lie down again until the next night at my home in Tennessee. Later, Narvel would describe Roger as being white as a sheet when he walked into his room.
‘I watched everybody get on both planes,’ Roger said to Narvel. ‘Both planes taxied to the end of the runway and I got in my car to come back to the hotel.'”
Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that Holmes, the main pilot, had called an FAA service specialist to find out how long he needed to wait to take off.
He was told he could take off immediately if he used if he used “visual flight rules,” which means he was required to know the area and terrain. He called back two more times before they took off, but mainly because he wanted to confirm he wouldn’t cross into the complex map of controlled air space in the region.
According to Biography.com, he was told it was fine to direct the plane northeast and remain below 3,000 feet. A few minutes after takeoff, around 1:45AM, they were flying at 3,300 feet when the left wing clipped an outcropping of 3,500-foot Otay Mountain, sending it into the rocky peak with a massive explosion.
Of course, that’s the kind of tragedy you never fully get over, and Reba told Oprah in 2012: