Today Reba McEntire is marking the 20th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of seven of her band members, her road manager, and the plane’s pilot and co-pilot by posting a special landing page on her website. On March 16, 1991, the jet carrying guitarist Chris Austin, 27, backup singer Paula Kaye Evans, 33, bassist Terry Jackson, 28, bandleader Kirk Cappello, 28, guitarist Michael Thomas, 34, drummer Tony Saputo, 34, keyboardist Joey Cigainero, 27 and road manager Jim Hammond crashed into Otay Mountain, near San Diego.
“By far this is my darkest hour, the most awful thing that ever happened in my life,” Reba told People just days after the accident. “When you have eight people that you absolutely love and their lives are just wiped out – it’s devastating.”
Only four hours before, Reba and her band had performed a 75-minute set at a convention for IBM at San Diego’s Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel. One of their last songs performed together was Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams,” which Reba swore never to perform again. Reba and the band were scheduled for a show in Fort Wayne, Indiana the next night. Reba skipped the flight after her husband and manager, Narvel Blackstock, urged her to stay and get a good night’s sleep as she recovered from a case of bronchitis. Band members Joe McGlohon and Pete Finney took off from the same airfield in a different plane just minutes behind the other jet. At 2:30am, the phone rang in Reba and Narvel’s room. Their pilot asked Narvel to come to his room where he told him about the plane crash. Reba and Narvel were faced with the task of calling loved ones to give them the news.
“The hardest hours was listening to Narvel having to make the phone calls. That was the worst part,” Reba told American Country Countdown With Kix Brooks. “I was so numb, I would follow Narvel from room to room, and he finally looked around at me, and said ‘You’ve got to stop following me!’ He said ‘I’ve got to hold it together to tell these people what happened.’ He said ‘You can’t follow me crying like this.’ I needed him to, but he couldn’t. He had to console and to tell these other people.”
Reba made some of her own phone calls then, calling her parents and friend Barbara Mandrell to share the news. “About all I could do, I called momma and daddy to let ‘em know… and then I called Barbara Mandrell because Kirk Cappello had worked for her before me, and I wanted her to hear it from me, because Narvel was calling everybody else. That by far was the hardest night of my life, and the rest to come with the memorial service and then after that, realizing that they weren’t going to be there when I turned around onstage.”
Reba canceled all appearances through April, except for her performance on that year’s Academy Awards nine days after the crash. She had wanted to cancel everything through July, but Debbie Hammon, Jim’s wife, wouldn’t allow it. At the Oscars, Reba performed the Oscar-nominated “I’m Checkin’ Out,” the song Meryl Streep sang at the end of Postcards From the Edge.
“I know in my heart they did go to a better place, and they told me at my vanity… one morning – I was supposed to do the Oscars, and I was supposed to sing “Heartbreak Hotel,” Postcards From the Edge, “I’m Checking Out (of this Heartbreak Hotel) “ – and I sat at my vanity, and I had to give an answer that afternoon,” Reba said. “And it just came to me, and there was Jim and all the guys and Paula Kaye saying ‘Go do it for us – I’m checking out of this Heartbreak Hotel.”
Reba dedicated her next album, For My Broken Heart, a collection of songs about heartbreak and loneliness, to her lost loved ones.