In an interview with the New York Times, Prince protégée Judith Hill opened up about the time Prince’s plane has to make an emergency landing just days before his death.
She was the one on the plane who first noticed him going unconscious.
“His eyes fixed,” just before he nodded off across a table from her, Ms. Hill, 32, recalled in an interview here, speaking for the first time about her presence on the April 15 flight from Atlanta, after Prince’s two shows there. Only one other passenger was on the private jet, Prince’s longtime friend and aide Kirk Johnson. They were bound for Paisley Park, Prince’s estate outside Minneapolis. Over vegetables and pasta, Prince and Ms. Hill discussed his performances that night, which turned out to be his last public concerts; other musicians like the funk singer Betty Davis; and photography, one of Prince’s hobbies.
According to flight-tracking reports, the chartered 1988 Dassault Falcon 900 took off at 12:51 a.m. from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and was near Chicago, less than an hour from its destination, when Ms. Hill witnessed Prince fall unconscious. If she had glanced away in that instant, down at her phone or purse, she might have thought he had simply dozed off. “Thankfully, I happened to be looking into his face,” she said.
She immediately got Mr. Johnson, who was near the front of the plane. And when they couldn’t rouse Prince, they alerted the pilot, who called air traffic controllers in Chicago for help at 1:12 a.m., reporting an unresponsive man on board. “We knew it was only a matter of time; we had to get down,” Ms. Hill said. “We didn’t have anything on the plane to help him.”
Ms. Hill was “very freaked out,” she said, as they kept trying to wake him, shaking him and calling his name, while the plane descended. At 1:17 a.m., it made an emergency landing in Moline, Ill., where an ambulance met them. Paramedics and Mr. Johnson carried Prince, 57, into the vehicle, and he was revived on the tarmac with a shot of Narcan, which is typically used to treat opioid overdoses. Eighteen minutes after landing, the ambulance took him to nearby Trinity Moline Hospital.
By the time they arrived, he was awake and talking, Ms. Hill said, “which was such a relief to me, because I thought he was gone.” She had never seen anything like that happen to him and had no idea what caused his condition. Mr. Johnson’s lawyer declined to comment.
For the world, Prince’s sudden emergency landing, initially attributed to the flu but later revealed to have been related to a painkiller overdose, was the first real sign of his abrupt decline. He was an extremely private star who had hidden his pain — and his addiction to prescription drugs to treat it — from even his inner circle.
Judith also says Prince told her he had to “fight for his life” during the emergency landing. “I remember hearing your voices from afar and saying to myself, ‘Follow the voices, follow the voices, get back in your body, you gotta to do this,'” Prince said, according to Judith. “And he said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, to get back into his body like that.”