How Jimmy Buffett Survived His 1994 Plane Crash

It was the summer of 1994 and Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter, author, businessman, and avid airplane pilot, was leaving Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he'd been vacationing. Buffett was an experienced pilot when he took off alone on August 25, 1994, from Madaket Harbor on the island's west side in his Grumman G-44 Widgeon seaplane, per Buffett World and Florida Today. Buffett was taxiing the nine-passenger twin-engine plane when he hit a sudden swell. "Just prior to lifting off the water, out of the corner of my left eye, I spotted some contrary water what looked to be to me some kind of swell, and decided to pull the power, but before I could do so, the plane veered extremely to the right," Buffett reported to the National Transportation Safety Board.

"He had just taken off from the water when the plane suddenly nose-dived into the water and capsized," a Nantucket police officer recalled in The News and Observer. As the seaplane began to sink, Buffett's Navy aviation survival training kicked in — he leaped into the water and began swimming away from the plane. He was picked up by a passing boat and brought to shore, where the police met him and took him to the hospital to get checked out.

Navy jet-flying training

Eight years earlier in 1986, Jimmy Buffett spent a week at the Naval Aviation survival school in Norfolk, Virginia, according to the Kingsport Times-News. While there, he had to escape an underwater helicopter crash simulator, among other types of training exercises. He took the training so the Navy would allow him to fly in an F-14 Tomcat that took off from an aircraft carrier. The Navy pilots from the 45th Advisory Group in Key West nicknamed him "Brillo" because of his hair.

When Buffett's seaplane went down off Nantucket in 1994, his training helped him escape. In addition to his naval survival training, he had a whopping 1,500 hours of total flight training (that's over 62 nonstop days, as a reference). This training included 400 hours of flight practice in multi-engine aircraft and 190 hours in the plane that nearly took his life — the Grumman G-44 Widgeon seaplane, which was his personal plane. 

Buffett had gotten his Commercial Pilot License at the age of 39, a full nine years before his 1994 near-crash and one year before his naval training. Aside from the Grumman Widgeon, Buffett over his life also owned a Falcon 900, Falcon 50, and Cessna 208 Caravan. In other words, he was not only extremely enthusiastic about flying, he was nothing near an amateur. And still, accidents can happen.

Unintentionally death-defying

All of Jimmy Buffett's flight training paid off on the day of his near-crash, at least enough to save his life. Per Buffett World, he told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that as he was taking off, "there was no indication of engine trouble or control problems." And yet, thanks to his experience and quick reaction time, he said he "was able to keep the plane from rolling completely over." Nurse Donna Fleming told the Tampa Bay Times that despite going into Nantucket Cottage Hospital complaining of pain, Buffett "was fine ... He walked out with his friends."

As far as determining the cause of the sudden water swell that threatened Buffett's life, the official NTSB report says, "Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident," which is just another way of saying, "We could see weather happening." UPI reports Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Mary Culver saying at the time, "The weather was good, and he [Buffett] was very fortunate."

Buffett's plane, however, was not so fortunate. UPI says that the Grumman Widgeon dated back to 1946, while the NTSB report says that the plane left the crash "substantially damaged." A later examination found no malfunctions or problems with its engines or frame.

Jamaica big, big Mistaica

Jimmy Buffett's 1994 flying accident wasn't his only plane-related near-death experience. Believe it or not, he nearly got shot down two years later in 1996 while flying in Jamaica with U2 singer Bono, Bono's family, and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. As the the Belfast Telegraph reported, Jamaican police apparently mistook Buffett's plane for a craft belonging to a marijuana smuggler, shot at it, and hit it at least seven times. Bono said of the incident, "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." Speaking of his family he said, "My only concern was for their safety. ... You can't believe the relief I felt when I saw the kids were okay."

Jamaican authorities later apologized, per MTV. For his part, Buffett immortalized the absurdity of the experience with typical laid-back, margarita-sipping aplomb in his song "Jamaica Mistaica," which he released the same year as the attack. Lyrics include, "Come back, come back back to Jamaica / Don't chu 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."