New details emerged on Friday of how a medical emergency on board Prince’s private jet led to an unscheduled landing just a few days before his death.
As fans worldwide mourned the sudden loss of the 57-year-old superstar, questions surrounding the circumstances of his death zeroed in on the fact that he may have become gravely ill days earlier but declined a lengthy stay in hospital.
According to flight records the plane descended 45,000 feet in 17 minutes to land at the airport, at a point when it had been 48 minutes away from its scheduled destination of Minneapolis.
Quad City international airport in Moline, Illinois, confirmed on Thursday that a private plane made an unscheduled landing around 1.35am local time on 15 April, and a person with a medical emergency was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital for treatment.
Less than a week later, on Thursday, Prince was found collapsed in an elevator at his estate. The Midwest medical examiner’s completed an autopsy on Prince’s body on Friday and said it would release the body to the family. There were no immediate details about the cause of his death, which the coroner said could take days to determine.
Speaking at the first press conference since Prince’s death, law enforcement officials offered few details of the investigation but shed some new light on how police found the music legend early on Thursday.
Carver County sheriff Jim Olson repeatedly said that he could not disclose much information so soon into an investigation. “To you, Prince was a celebrity,” he said. “To us, he’s a community member and a good neighbor.”
The last time Prince was seen alive was around 8pm Wednesday, when he was dropped off at Paisley Park, Olson said. There were no “obvious signs” of trauma visible on Prince’s body when it was discovered around 9.40am on Thursday, he added.
Three people were present at the home when emergency personnel arrived a half hour later. Prince was pronounced dead at 10.07am.
“CPR was immediately started,” Olson said, “but was unsuccessful.”
Olson did not answer questions about whether Prince succumbed to a drug overdose, citing the investigation. He said there were no indications of foul play or suicide: “We have no reason to believe that.”
The sheriff’s office hadn’t responded to any calls over the last year from Paisley Park, Olson said. Investigators plan to gather medical records and speak to “people who are close to him”, he added.
Prince had recently cancelled shows in Atlanta because of the flu, but rescheduled the performances for last week. On his way home from the two consecutive sets at Atlanta’s Fox Theater, his private jet was abruptly diverted.
The flight left again for Minneapolis just 10 hours after its emergency landing.
The Guardian cannot confirm a report by the website TMZ, which cited multiple anonymous sources in Moline, that Prince was administered a “save shot”, typically used to counteract the effects of an overdose. The medical examiner’s office said it could take weeks to get results from the autopsy toxicology reports.
As fans searched for answers about Prince’s unexpected death, “the hometown hero” was remembered in Minneapolis where he received an emotional send-off on the night of his death.
Across the city, it was almost nonstop Prince into the following morning. At a bar next to First Avenue, which held an all-night dance party to commemorate Prince’s life, TVs were tuned into music video medleys. The Dakota jazz club, which Prince frequented monthly and where he attended a show as recently as Tuesday, kept their stage lights dimmed to purple, while marking his table with a purple flower and a placard that read: “Rest in peace.”
A thinner crowd was present on Friday at the musician’s Paisley Park home, where a memorial had expanded since Prince’s death was confirmed. Purple flowers and balloons were scattered about signs adorned with brief words from the stream of fans that have continued to arrive.
Many took an opportunity to snap a photo next to a painting of Prince, situated neatly on the end. Standing nearby was Debbie Rackow, a 50-year-old from the southern Minnesota city of Winona. Rackow’s hair, coincidentally, has been dyed purple for the last three months – a choice that took on new meaning this week.
“We started [listening to him] in college, in ’84, some friends knew him,” she said. “We just started listening to it all the time. It was just great. I love the music.”
Rackow said she regrets never jumping at the opportunity to see Prince perform live. “I wish we would have – we were going to go, but we didn’t see him play then,” she said. As an individual, she added, Prince was “his own person”.
“He [lived] his life around who he was,” she said. “He didn’t care what people thought.”
Some visiting the memorial for the first time on Friday were still overwhelmed at the loss of a towering figurehead who transcended musical genres and societal norms. On Thursday, a barrier was erected around the memorial, out of respect for the family, to prevent photos from being taken up close – but on Friday, that had changed.
Carrie VanBeusekom, a nearby resident, stopped by Paisley after a brief run into a Target store, where she said the talk was all Prince. She wore a light purple jacket – “it’s the only thing purple I have” – and was on the verge of tears upon arrival.
“I’m just very moved,” said VanBeusekom, 50. “It was hard for people to understand him. It’s equally hard to explain how he’s touched so many people.”
The first concert she ever attended was a Prince show, when she was 18 years old and had recently moved to Minneapolis from a rural farmland community. “Just as he was expressing himself, so many of us in our early 20s were learning how to express ourselves,” she said. “It just kind of gave me the freedom to do that.”
“I can’t explain it … he just means so much to so many people in so many ways,” she said. “And it was just too soon. It’s a great loss to the music industry, but it’s just a great loss, I think, to the world.”
Riasel Barrett, 52, flew from Houston on Friday for business, and said it was important to visit Paisley because “this is monumental to me”.
“I felt like we grew up together … he’s just an icon to us,” Barrett said, and he allowed many to live without “allowing life to interfere”.
“We’re all too often worried about the way we dressed, the way we look, how fit we are, what other people think, what society thinks,” he said.
Barrett continued: “Prince said: ‘I’m gay, I’m straight, I’m black, I’m white. Hey, it’s just what it is.’”
According to a transcript of a 911 emergency call which was made at 9.43am on Thursday, an unidentified male caller said he needed an ambulance and that a man was not responding. “Yes, it’s Prince,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010