While most trips to the Caribbean are relaxing and relatively safe, for singer, songwriter and author Jimmy Buffet (and his friend Bono from U2), a trip to Jamaica ended with bullet holes in his plane.
Hemisphere Dancer is Jimmy Buffet’s personal seaplane. It was originally built in 1955 and called a “A Grumman HU-16 Albatross flying boat”. Hemisphere Dancer’s original use was a long-range search and rescue plane for the US Navy. Buffett purchased the aircraft in 1990 and restored it. This is the very plane that Buffett was flying during the incident recounted in the song “Jamaica Mistaica” on the album Banana Wind.
Buffett had recently set off on a tour of the Caribbean, Central, and South America, in celebration of his 50th birthday. Accompanying him were his wife, son, youngest daughter, and some hired pilots to lighten the workload. Despite numerous efforts at obtaining the requisite clearances and permissions, the Hemisphere Dancer was only allowed to make a water landing once during the month-long odyssey. This action is chronicled in Buffett’s autobiographical travelogue A Pirate Looks at 50, which was an immediate #1 best seller on the New York Times best seller list.
During his tour, on January 16, 1996, Buffett’s plane was shot at by Jamaican police. The “Hemisphere Dancer” was carrying Buffett, U2’s Bono, his wife Ali, their children Jordan and Eve, and Island Records producer Chris Blackwell. Police suspected it was smuggling drugs. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although there were a few bullet holes in the plane.
This is how the story was rerouted, as Buffet taxied his plane Hemisphere Dancer in Negril (Jamaica).
“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…You can’t believe the relief I felt when I saw the kids were okay,” Bono recounted.
Jimmy Buffet would later release Jamaica Mistaica (1996) to recount the terror:
The Hemisphere Dancer currently resides at Margaritaville in Orlando, FL.