Most of the world who sang along with him at concerts knew Jimmy Buffett as a sailor. But those who fly knew him as a fellow pilot who loved the sky almost as much as he loved his Mother Ocean.
James William Buffett died on the evening of September 1, surrounded by “family, friends, music, and dogs,” according to a statement released on social media on Saturday. The cause of death, as reported by TMZ, was lymphoma, as the result of advanced skin cancer. He left behind his wife Jane, two daughters, and one son—and a comprehensive catalog of songs, books, and businesses that embody the “Margaritaville” lifestyle captured by his most famous record, of that title.
Buffett was born on Christmas Day, 1946, and after fits and starts that included an initial failure to break into Nashville’s music industry, he found his way to the Florida Keys and a lifestyle that would inspire his oeuvre. He was introduced to flying by a college friend—but with little extra cash to spend on lessons, he put flying on hold. Once he’d tasted success, he pursued his dream of becoming a pilot. He toured using his Dassault Falcon 50 and later Falcon 900 (he was typed in both), and he owned and flew a succession of airplanes and amphibs—no surprise—including a Grumman Albatross, the Hemisphere Dancer, that was a visitor to airshows such as Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo and EAA AirVenture. His other aircraft included a Boeing Stearman, Cessna Citation 500 series, Cessna Caravan, and his first airplane, a Lake Renegade named “Lady of the Waters.”
He had but one recorded accident (NTSB: BFO94LA151). On August 25, 1994, he was flying his Grumman G-44A Widgeon near Nantucket, Massachusetts. On the takeoff run, on the step, he reported a swell approaching and before he could reduce power, the seaplane veered to the right. The Widgeon hit the water and nosed over. Buffett fortunately received only minor injuries and was the only person aboard. At the time, he had nearly 1,500 hours total time, with 191 hours in the make and model.