August 1990: How Stevie Ray Vaughan Died
Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue in Austin, Texas
Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35 years old when he died in a helicopter crash outside East Troy, Wisconsin on August 27, 1990. The previous day, Vaughan had relayed to his bandmates a disturbing dream he had where he witnessed his own funeral. That evening, the guitarist, with his band Double Trouble, joined as special guests for a concert at the Alpine Valley Musical Theater, along with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Vaughan’s brother, Jimmie. After the show, four helicopters, owned and operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc., were reserved to fly the artists and their crews back to Chicago. One helicopter was reserved for Stevie, Jimmie, and his wife Connie. Members of Clapton’s crew, however, had already taken seats on the helicopter when the Vaughan’s arrived to board. Eager to return to Chicago, Stevie asked Jimmie and Connie for the last seat.
With dense fog settling in, the helicopters began departing at one a.m. Jeff Brown, the pilot of Vaughan’s helicopter, banked sharply to the left about a half-mile after take off. The helicopter collided into a ski slope; everyone on board was killed instantly. Reports of the accident did not begin surfacing until the morning when the helicopter failed to reach its destination of Meigs Field in Chicago. Double Trouble members Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton began concluding the worst when Vaughan’s hotel room in Chicago was found empty. Shortly after seven a.m. Jimmie Vaughan was called to identify his brother’s body.
By the afternoon radio and television broadcasts confirmed Vaughan had perished aboard the ill-fated helicopter. Fans sought refuge at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, to mourn the city’s favorite son. Many expressed the tragic senselessness of Vaughan’s accidental death in light of his recovery from a public battle with drugs and alcohol a few years prior.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas. Over 1,500 people, including Jimmie Vaughan and fellow musicians Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Jackson Browne, among others, attended the funeral. A Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue was dedicated at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake, where Vaughan played a number of shows throughout his career.
The cause of the helicopter accident was attributed to pilot negligence. Jeff Brown, a veteran airplane pilot had little experience operating a helicopter in inclement weather. In 1995 Jimmie and mother Martha Vaughan sued Omniflight for negligence. The family was awarded an undisclosed sum.
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