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Protégée Speaks: Here's What Happened During Prince's Emergency Plane Landing

Judith Hill was with the star during his last days.

Artist // Facebook

On April 15, Prince was traveling on a private jet from Atlanta, where he had performed two shows, to his Paisley Park estate in Minneapolis when the plane had to make an emergency landing upon him falling unconscious. Six days later, on April 21, Prince died from an accidental overdose of painkiller fentanyl.

His protégée Judith Hill was on the flight with him and recently detailed the incident to the New York Times. Read excerpts below.

"His eyes fixed,” just before he nodded off across a table from her, Ms. Hill, 32, [said]."

If she had glanced away in that instant, down at her phone or purse, she might have thought he had simply dozed off. “Thankfully, I happened to be looking into his face,” she said.

She immediately got [Kirk] Johnson, [Prince's longtime friend and aide], who was near the front of the plane. And when they couldn't rouse Prince, they alerted the pilot, who called air traffic controllers in Chicago for help at 1:12 a.m., reporting an unresponsive man on board. "We knew it was only a matter of time; we had to get down," Hill said. "We didn’t have anything on the plane to help him."

Eighteen minutes after landing, the ambulance took him to nearby Trinity Moline Hospital. By the time they arrived, he was awake and talking, Hill said, "which was such a relief to me, because I thought he was gone."

He wanted to leave the hospital, but at the urging of his companions, he remained there until morning. "He wasn’t dreary or drowsy, or anything. He wanted to watch 'Zootopia.' He loved those films. I was going to pull it up on my phone. He said: 'No, no, no, not here. We're going to pick a special time and place to watch that,'" Hill said.

Hill felt that Prince had suffered a close call, one that wouldn't be repeated. "He was very cooperative that whole night," she said, "serious about getting help."

Prince also came around to the notion that he needed help.... He underwent tests administered by Dr. Michael Schulenberg, a local physician he had seen earlier. "He did it because he was concerned, and he wanted to do the right thing for his own body," Hill said. "And that’s the part that breaks my heart, because he was trying. He was trying."

In the hospital, he said, "It's only by God's grace that I'm even here," Hill recalled. He told her: "'I had to fight for my life. I remember hearing your voices from afar and saying to myself, 'Follow the voices, follow the voices, get back in your body, you gotta to do this.' And he said it was the hardest thing he'd ever done, to get back into his body like that."

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