Jimmy Buffett’s life evokes images of boozy chill-outs by the beach and a certain carefree calm, but in 1996 the singer’s seaplane came under a hail of gunfire in a dramatic encounter with the Jamaican authorities that inspired a song.
Buffett’s song “Jamaica Mistaica” is a laid-back account of a dramatic near-death experience in which his plane, Hemisphere Dancer, was mistaken by the Jamaican authorities for a drug-smuggling aircraft.
It’s one of the many tales that have resurfaced after his death on Friday.
While on tour on Jan. 16, 1996, Buffett, an avid pilot, had just landed at an airport in Negril, Jamaica, accompanied by Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono, of the band U2, when a sudden burst of shots rang out, according to one of Buffett’s Margaritaville websites.
“We flew the plane in, got off, and as the plane took off to go get fuel, we were surrounded by a Jamaican S.W.A.T. team,” Buffett said in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview. “I thought it was a joke until I heard the gunfire.”
As Bono recalled, according to Radio Margaritaville: “These boys were shooting all over the place. I felt as if we were in the middle of a James Bond movie.”
“I honestly thought we were all going to die,” he added.
Also on board the HU-16 Grumman Albatross plane was Bono’s wife, Ali, their two young children, and Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.
Later that year, Buffett released his album “Banana Wind,” in which he recounts the story on “Jamaica Mistaica”:
Just about to lose my temper as I endeavored to explain
We had only come for chicken we were not a ganja plane
Well, you should have seen their faces when they finally realized
We were not some coked-up cowboy sporting guns and alibis.
“Like all things, it made for a good song,” Buffett told The Spokesman-Review in a 1996 interview.
“I know that there are times in my life where I probably should have been shot at for a lot worse behavior,” he added. “But on this particular instance, I was innocent. Not even a spliff.”
The plane, now an artifact of the Buffett universe, was struck by bullets but nobody was hurt.
He later received an apology from the Jamaican government, according to an MTV News report at the time.
“Some people said, ‘God, you could have sued them, you could have sued the government,’” Buffett said in The Spokesman-Review interview. “But I went, ‘No, it’s probably karma. We’re even now.’”