Unpacking Decades-Old Story That Paula Abdul Survived Plane Crash

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Over the years, social media platforms like X and Reddit have persistently resurfaced the claim that U.S. singer, dancer and television personality Paula Abdul survived a plane crash in the early 1990s. Abdul has recounted this story in interviews, prompting various outlets to investigate, and commenters on social media and in online forums to dissect and rehash her claims, generally expressing disbelief.

According to Abdul, the incident occurred around 1992 while she was on her "Under My Spell" world tour. She claims that the small passenger plane she was traveling on between tour stops had to make an emergency landing. Abdul has described the traumatic experience in several interviews over the decades, saying she sustained injuries that led to years of chronic pain and multiple surgeries.

While Abdul sometimes changes the details of the alleged plane crash whenever she recounts the story publicly, she has maintained several key details, including that she traveled on a seven-seater from St. Louis to Denver and that the plane landed in a cornfield. She also claimed the rough landing caused her to undergo 15 cervical spinal surgeries, which forced her to take seven years off from work following the incident.

Snopes reached out to Abdul and her team, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment and clarification.

Despite the 61-year-old's numerous interviews and public statements about the alleged plane crash, her inconsistency and changes to some key details — such as whether she wore a seatbelt at the time, how many people were onboard, or if it happened in 1992 or 1993 — make it difficult to corroborate her claims with primary evidence. Additionally, the people Abdul has named over the years as having knowledge of the alleged incident have never defended her story, nor has anyone located an aviation accident report on any government databases.

Below, we lay out what we've been able to find out.

Paula's Public Proclamations

In 2023, Abdul talked of the plane incident in detail while appearing as a guest on "Inside of You" podcast hosted by Michael Rosenbaum.

Here is an excerpt of that podcast interview, in which Abdul goes into great detail about what she recalled of the alleged plane crash:

"I've gone through 15 cervical spinal surgeries. ... Now, I want to get this out here because people go, 'There's no record of her ever getting in a crash landing.' I was on tour, my first world tour. ... And I was at the height, height, height of outselling a lot of artists. And I was leaving from St. Louis going to Denver in a seven-seater jet, private jet, and 30 minutes, 35 minutes into the air, I had just gone to the bathroom and climbed over luggage to get back to my seat. Never got to my seat. One of the engines blew up and the right wing caught on fire. And we plummeted. And I hit the top of my head on the plane and I was knocked out.

"People say, 'She's making this up.' You know what, these young reporters don't realize while I was on tour, there was no computer. There were no paparazzi. It was tabloid reporting.


"I've worked with the cream of the crop from the time I was 17 years old. And all of a sudden now I'm in this crazy accident. When I came to, the plane was in flames. And there were six other people on the plane that experienced this, too. There's no reason I would make this up and have to lose my career.


"It's not documented. ... And because I was able to have people sign NDAs, I didn't want anyone to know that I might perhaps be damaged goods. I worked really hard to get the career that I have. ... I woke up in the hospital. God bless Merv Griffin's crew saw that a private plane went down, that it was mine. And they rescued us in a cornfield and I remember coming to.


"I was the only one that didn't have a seat belt on. ... I remember seeing an illumination of light. ... I had my hair and makeup artist, my tour manager, my tour accountant. ... I remember seeing my hair and makeup guy, Daniel [Combs], a light just illuminate his face, and I saw fear of God, and I must have got hit [on] my head and I was knocked out. ... I came to and and we were all holding hands, like, I'm going, 'Wait it's not our turn to go. This is crazy.' And the co-pilot was able to crash land us. ... Nobody died. Some people had stitches from the gash over the forehead or a gash on the knee. But I was the only one that got spinal cord injury."

Snopes reached out to several individuals Abdul mentioned to request a comment, as well as her then-husband, actor and filmmaker Emilio Estevez. While Estevez has never publicly commented on the alleged incident, his team did provide the name of the private jet company that he may have chartered Abdul's jet from. We were unable to confirm or discern details, and several individuals denied having any knowledge or involvement in the incident.

In 2005, Abdul talked to People magazine, telling the outlet that the incident resulted in one day off from the tour. "I'd performed in St. Louis and then got on a plane for Denver. About 40 minutes into the flight, an engine [caught fire]. I remember coming to after we landed in a cornfield. I hit my head on the top of the plane. I tore up my knee, but I was off only one day and then back onstage. As sore as I was, I had to get out there."

Then, in 2009, Abdul reportedly told radio host Dave Ryan of KDWB's "Morning" show some slightly different details — that she actually wore her seatbelt and the alleged accident occurred not in 1992, but the following year. Per that interview, she "was on tour at the end of '93," and the accident happened "on my birthday," which would have been June 19. "I was leaving St. Louis and I was on a 7-seater private plane," she continued. "I was going to Denver and close to 40 minutes into the air, one of the engines blew up and the right wing caught on fire, and we plummeted, and I broke through my seatbelt, and smashed my head on top of the plane. I was knocked out. When I came to, everyone was holding hands. The entire plane was in flames. Half the other engine blew and the co-pilot crash-landed us in a cornfield in Iowa. Somewhere in Iowa ... I was twenty ... seven."

According to a 2019 article in Parade, Abdul "experienced 2 accidents, a 1992 car crash that left her with neck injuries, and a 1993 plane crash that left her partially paralyzed and required 15 spinal surgeries. As a result, she developed an addiction to prescription painkillers that she sought treatment for in 2008."

1990s Tour Details Provide Few Clues

Abdul's Official Fan Site notes that the "Under My Spell" tour kicked off on Oct. 26, 1991, and ran to Aug. 7, 1992. There were no 1993 dates listed for the tour. Per the fan site:

Abdul also suffered serious neck and back injuries at the end of the tour when she was flying in a private jet and the plane was forced to make an unplanned emergency landing. Abdul admits she was unbuckled in the cabin at the time of the incident.

Abdul has repeatedly said the incident occurred when she was traveling from St. Louis to Denver, but her website does not list a St. Louis tour date, though it does list a date for Greenwood Village near Denver on June 10, 1992. Abdul's official fan website lists no shows between June 10 in Greenwood Village and June 23 in Seattle, leaving a gap for these performances. However, Setlist.fm mentions a June 22, 1992, show at Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village, Colorado. According to several sources, a number of concert dates on that tour were canceled or rescheduled in 1992, perhaps indirectly supporting claims she may have been dealing with injuries or illness. Those dates were listed as follows:

  • June 11, 1992 — Salt Lake City, Utah

  • June 13, 1992 — Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • June 16, 1992 — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • June 18, 1992 — Las Vegas, Nevada

  • July 8, 1992 — Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

  • July 10, 1992 — Pueblo, Colorado

  • July 12, 1992 — Clarkston, Michigan

  • July 30, 1992 — Stanhope, New Jersey

  • July 31, 1992 — Buffalo, New York

A search of newspaper databases from 1992 and 1993, meanwhile, showed no news items about the alleged plane incident. The databases did include a report that said on June 16, 1992, St. Luke's hospital in Houston released Abdul after she had been hospitalized for dehydration and intestinal complaints due to influenza. Abdul reportedly spent two days in the hospital, which forced the cancellation of concerts in Houston and Oklahoma City, and the tour resumed in Peoria, Illinois. Despite claiming that she would have been about 27 years old at the time of the plane incident, Abdul would have turned 30 years old in 1992; the Houston hospital discharged her three days before her 30th birthday.

Abdul has frequently claimed that following the alleged plane crash, she "disappeared for close to seven years" to deal with the physical issues resulting from her injuries. This timeline would have likely put her out of commission for the rest of the 1990s. However, Abdul released her third studio album, "Head Over Heels," in 1995, starred in the TV movie "Touched by Evil" in 1997, and followed it with another TV movie, "The Waiting Game," in 1998. She also frequently appeared on TV in the seven years following the alleged plane crash, including a 1997 episode of "Muppets Tonight" and a 1998 episode of the sitcom "Spin City" starring Michael J. Fox.

Lack of Official Aviation Records

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. federal agency that investigates and determines the probable cause of transportation and aviation accidents and incidents. The safety reports generated by the NTSB provide many key details of a flight mishap, including the number of passengers and crew onboard; the phase of operation in which the incident occurred, whether shortly after takeoff or during descent; any fatalities and injuries sustained by crew, passengers or people on the ground; the number of seats on the plane; the purpose of the flight, whether agricultural, pilot training or commercial; cause of accident/incident and any damage sustained by aircraft; and any fire or explosion sustained by the aircraft.

Snopes examined the NTSB accident reports covering June – July 1992 and June – July 1993. We looked at all accident and incident reports for mainland U.S. involving small passenger aircraft, not just seven-seater planes, and found that each available report on the database was inconsistent with Abdul's description of the supposed plane crash.

Despite a statement on its site insisting that as part of its aviation investigation classification, the NTSB "investigates all civil aviation accidents and select incidents," one report suggested that the NTSB only physically attends a small fraction of the accidents it investigates each year, and that the organization considers various factors when deciding where to send investigators, including public perception. Apparently, factors such as potential media coverage or the presence of a public figure may also influence the NTSB's decision to attend a crash investigation.

To further complicate Snopes' analysis, the NTSB noted on its website the following:

Previously, the NTSB would investigate any aircraft damage, although a minor incident (e.g., a heavy landing in a small private general aviation vehicle) that had no reportable injuries and little to no damage might not have been reported to the NTSB.

In a 2019 Jezebel investigation, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told the outlet that "it's possible that such a crash would have not been investigated if it resulted in minor damage to the aircraft and minor injuries to those on board. Then it would be classified as an 'incident,' as opposed to an 'accident.'"

The FAA is a regulatory body that issues and enforces aviation safety standards in the U.S., focusing on compliance and issuing administrative actions for violations. The NTSB, on the other hand, conducts independent investigations into aviation accidents to determine their causes, issuing detailed reports with findings and safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The NTSB operates independently from the FAA to ensure unbiased investigations into accidents.

Following Jezebel's investigation, Abdul told Yahoo! Entertainment, "You know what? It's like, there are seven other people that were on the plane, who were in that plane accident with me. So, I really don't care what people have to say. I don't."

In sum, Abdul has consistently shared her account of surviving a plane crash either in 1992 or 1993, which she says caused significant physical trauma resulting in multiple surgeries. However, FAA and NTSB records, as well as trusted news sources, provide no corroborating evidence, and the people who were allegedly on the flight will not speak about the incident, likely due to having signed general nondisclosure agreements, according to Abdul. This lack of official documentation has caused skepticism about the details of the alleged crash. Nonetheless, Abdul's personal testimony has remained detailed and somewhat consistent over the years.

Snopes has previously reported on other plane crashes, including the true claim of a real Facebook live footage taken by a passenger on a flight moments before it crashed in Nepal, and rumors that Donald Trump's ex-wife Marla Maples had died in a plane crash.


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