— -- “Chicago, send us ambulance.”
As those words were spoken to Air Traffic Control, Prince, the 57-year-old music legend, was nearly lifeless in the cabin of his private plane.
In response to the emergency call, EMTs met the musician’s jet early on April 15 at Quad City International Airport in Moline, Illinois. Within hours, Prince apparently would be well enough to get back in the air -- headed to his home in the Minneapolis area. He would not live another week.
Now, for the first time, the audio from that foreboding emergency landing has been made public. ABC News sued to obtain the recordings from the airport, where officials originally refused to release them.
The tapes are haunting for what they don’t have. There is no obvious frenzy or fear in the voices. It’s just calm and matter-of-fact as the mechanics are worked out so that Prince -- whose name was never mentioned -- could get the medical treatment he needed.
“What’s the nature of the emergency?” asks the controller at Chicago Center.
The reply was a straightforward: “Unresponsive passenger.”
Prince would be found dead in his home six days later, on April 21, at Paisley Park, Minnesota. His death was later ruled an accident caused by an overdose of the potent opioid called fentanyl. In the days between the emergency landing and his death, Prince’s staff would reach out to an addiction expert seeking help for their boss.
Although the musician didn't have any known ailments, his former fiancée and music collaborator Sheila E. told ABC News' "Good Morning America" the day after his death that he suffered many injuries from performing.
After his death, his longtime attorney L. Londell McMillan disputed suggestions that Prince had a drug addiction.
Prince’s mid-air emergency occurred as his plane closed in on Minnesota en route from Atlanta, where he had played two concerts. Entertainer Judith Hill told The New York Times that she was with Prince on the flight and watched as he lost consciousness. She said she was “very freaked out” as the emergency took hold in the cabin.
On the ground in Moline, no one seemed to know who their inbound patient was -- or even if it was a man or woman.
“Hi, this Heath at airport dispatch,” is how one call opens. “I just got a call from Chicago Center. We’ve got an aircraft inbound. It’s going to be medical for an unresponsive passenger. We’re requesting an ambulance to meet an officer at Gate 1, West Gate.”
The dispatcher replies: “I’m sorry, unresponsive?”
“Yes,” he replies. “And it looks like the aircraft is just circling around the airport right now for the landing.”
The dispatcher signs off: “OK. We’ll get an ambulance up there.”
The flight landed as directed at 1:17 a.m. Medics tended to the star for nearly 20 minutes and the ambulance raced off with lights and sirens going at 1:35 a.m.