Death of Stevie Ray Vaughan
A Bell 206B similar to the accident aircraft
|Date||August 27, 1990|
|Location||Alpine Valley Resort, East Troy, Wisconsin|
|Cause||Exsanguination due to transection of aorta, contributed to by blunt trauma|
|Burial||August 31, 1990, at Laurel Land Cemetery, Dallas, Texas|
|Inquest||October 24, 1990, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin|
|Coroner||John T. Griebel|
|Verdict||Death by misadventure|
On Monday, August 27, 1990, American musician Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash near East Troy, Wisconsin, at age 35. He was one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 1980s, described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as "the second coming of the blues".
Vaughan spent much of his last days performing with his band Double Trouble as the opening act for Eric Clapton at Alpine Valley Music Theatre. After the concert concluded, he and three members of Clapton's tour entourage boarded a helicopter that crashed into the side of a nearby ski hill shortly after takeoff. The Civil Air Patrol was notified of the crash at 4:30 a.m., and authorities were called to locate the scene of the accident. All five people were pronounced dead on arrival. The autopsy concluded that Vaughan suffered multiple internal injuries and died of exsanguination due to blunt trauma. At the inquest, the coroner found no evidence of drug or alcohol use and recorded death by misadventure. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the pilot failed to gain sufficient altitude to avoid rising terrain.
Vaughan was buried at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas, on August 31, 1990. In 1992, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Omniflight Helicopters that was settled for an undisclosed amount in 1995.
The day before his death, Vaughan told his band and crew members about a nightmare that he had in which he was at his own funeral and saw thousands of mourners. He felt "terrified, yet almost peaceful." Backstage after the show that evening, the musicians talked about playing together again, particularly with Eric Clapton for a series of dates at London's Royal Albert Hall in February and March 1991 as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Moments later, Clapton's tour manager Peter Jackson said that the weather was getting worse and they had to leave soon. Vaughan's last words to drummer Chris Layton were "I love ya."
Four helicopters were waiting to transport concert group members to Chicago. Vaughan was with his brother Jimmie Vaughan and Jimmie's wife Connie as they went to board their reserved Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter piloted by Jeff Brown. Eric Clapton's tour manager Peter Jackson had told Vaughan that seats were reserved for all three of them. However, they discovered that their seats had been taken by Clapton's agent Bobby Brooks, bodyguard Nigel Browne, and assistant tour manager Colin Smythe, with only one empty seat available. Vaughan asked Jimmie and Connie if he could take the last seat saying, "I really need to get back." Jimmie and Connie obliged and caught the next flight in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with manager Mark Proct.
Vaughan and the other three passengers departed aboard the third helicopter in dense fog at 1 a.m. Jeff Brown piloted the helicopter off the golf course, at a higher speed and slightly lower altitude than the others. It banked sharply to the left and crashed into the side of a 300-foot ski slope, about 0.6 miles (1 km) from takeoff. All on board were killed instantly. There was no fire or explosion, and the bodies and debris were scattered over 200 feet (60 m). Nobody was aware of the crash until the helicopter failed to arrive at its destination the next morning.
A Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol search airplane found the wreckage at 7 a.m., 50 feet (15 m) below the summit of the hill. Shortly after, Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan were called to the morgue to identify the bodies. According to an autopsy report, Vaughan had suffered many unsurvivable injuries, such as transection and dissection of the aorta and multiple depressed skull fractures, along with a ruptured spleen and liver and fractures of the right thigh bone and ribs. An investigation found that no drugs or alcohol were involved and that all victims had worn seatbelts. No mechanical failures or malfunctions were found with the helicopter. Pilot Jeff Brown was instrument-rated and had many hours of experience operating the Bell 206B at night. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the accident was deemed controlled flight into terrain, as Brown could not see the hill due to low visibility.
Vaughan's death triggered an outpouring of grief around the world. The album Family Style, the only collaboration recorded with his brother Jimmie, was released in September 1990 and became Stevie Ray Vaughan's best-selling non-Double Trouble album. On August 30, 1990, Vaughan was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas. Funeral services were held, with over 1,500 people attending and 3,000 more outside the chapel. His fiancée, Janna Lapidus, Jimmie and Martha Vaughan were in attendance. Among the other mourners were Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Nile Rodgers.
Omniflight, the company that owned and operated the helicopter, was sued for negligence by Martha and Jimmie Vaughan. They claimed that pilot Jeff Brown operated the helicopter recklessly under visual flight rules while in instrument meteorological conditions. The lawsuit ended in a settlement.  The widows of Clapton's bodyguard, Nigel Browne, and assistant tour manager, Colin Smythe, received more than $2 million in settlements.
Memorials and tributes
Jimmie Vaughan later co-wrote and recorded a song in tribute to his brother and other deceased blues guitarists titled "Six Strings Down". Bonnie Raitt's 1991 album Luck of the Draw was dedicated to him. Many other artists recorded songs in remembrance of Vaughan, including Eric Johnson, Tommy Emmanuel, Buddy Guy, Steve Vai, Ezra Charles, White Lion and Wayne Perkins. Stevie Wonder, whose "Superstition" Vaughan covered, honored him with "Stevie Ray Blues" on his 1995 live album Natural Wonder. Musicians such as Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mark Tremonti, Chris Duarte, Colin James, Los Lonely Boys, Mike McCready, Eric Johnson, Orianthi, John Petrucci, and Doyle Bramhall II have cited Vaughan as an influence.
An annual motorcycle ride and concert in Dallas, Texas, benefits the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund. The city of Austin, Texas, erected the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake, the site of a number of his concerts. It has become one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Since 1998, St. Louis, Missouri, has hosted an annual Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Concert around Thanksgiving featuring local musicians. In 2000, Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He also became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2008, residents voted to rename Industrial Boulevard in Dallas, with Vaughan's name being one of the finalists, alongside Stanley Marcus, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and César Chávez.  In the end, it was renamed to Riverfront Boulevard. Stevie Ray Vaughan was eventually inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by John Mayer.
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