Travis Barker vowed to fly again after 2008 plane crash: ‘I have to’

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker are seen in attendance during the UFC 264 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker traveled together on vacation — his first flight in nearly 13 years. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC) (Jeff Bottari via Getty Images)

Travis Barker flying to Cabo with girlfriend Kourtney Kardashian and her mom, Kris Jenner, isn't just some relationship milestone. It's a huge step in the life of the drummer, who swore off flying after surviving a 2008 fiery plane crash.

On Saturday, the two were photographed boarding her sister Kylie Jenner's private plane at a small airport in Camarillo, Calif. The couple, who traveled with Kris and her boyfriend Corey Gamble, then were snapped again deplaning in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

It's nearly 13 years since Barker, 45, and the late DJ AM (real name: Adam Goldstein) were the only survivors after a plane they were traveling in crashed in Columbia, S.C., on Sept. 19, 2008 and burst into flames. The small plane was going down the runway when those inside heard a bang and air traffic controllers saw sparks. The pilot aborted the take-off but couldn't stop. The plane left the runway, crashed through the airport fence, crossed a highway and then ended up in an embankment where it burst into flames.

Officials wait to investigate a private jet crash carrying six people near the Columbia Airport in West Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday, September 20, 2008. Four people are confirmed dead and performers Travis Barker and his partner DJ-AM were injured in the crash.  (Photo by Tracy Glantz/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Officials at the site of the private jet crash that killed four people in 2008. Travis Barker and DJ AM survived. (Photo: Tracy Glantz/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) (The State via Getty Images)

The four other passengers — pilot Sarah Lemmon, co-pilot James Bland, Barker's assistant Chris Baker and security guard Charles Monroe Still Jr. — died in the crash. Lemmon and Bland died from smoke inhalation and burns while Baker and Still died upon impact. Barker and Goldstein, who were performing together under the TRV$DJAM collaboration at the time, were both critically injured and transported to Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga. They both suffered second and third degree burns and received skin grafts. Barker's burns covered 65 percent of his body, and he remained in the hospital for over three months, undergoing a total of 27 surgeries, plus blood transfusions and skin graft after skin graft. At one point, doctors considered amputating his foot.

The men later said Goldstein had fallen asleep when the the plane took off and he awoke to Barker, who had a lifelong flying phobia, screaming as the plane went out of control. They were able to escape out of the door. However, Barker's whole body became covered in jet fuel, which ignited as he fought to get free. Even his hands were on fire as he ripped off his clothes next to the plane in attempt to stop the burning. People were yelling for him to stop, drop and roll and he did — and then Goldstein helped put out the fire on his feet.

FIVE POINTS, SC - SEPTEMBER 19:  Musicians Travis Barker and DJ AM of TRVSDJAM perform during the celebration of the launch of T-Mobile in South Carolina at T-Mobile Boulevard on September 19, 2008 in Five Points, South Carolina.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic for Bragman Nyman & Cafarelli)
Travis Barker and DJ AM of TRVSDJAM pictured in 2008. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic for Bragman Nyman & Cafarelli) (Michael Loccisano via Getty Images)

"I was lying next to AM as the plane was exploding, and I was screaming, 'Are we alive?'" he recalled to Rolling Stone.

Both men suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. Barker never flew again. When he was moved from the Georgia burn center to a facility in Los Angeles, he traveled across the country via bus.

Various lawsuits stemmed from the crash. When Goldstein died less than a year later of a drug overdose, it was suggested PTSD may have triggered his drug relapse.

Barker spoke about being suicidal after the crash, calling friends from his hospital bed and offering them $1 million to take his life.

Barker wrote about the ordeal in his 2015 memoir Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, and its impact on his life:

“I am running as fast as I can, and I am on fire," he wrote. "The night is dark, but I can see my way, because of the light from my own burning flesh. I have never felt this much pain in my life: it feels like everything inside of my body is boiling and trying to burst through my skin. I am stripping off my clothes as I run across a grassy field, but I am still on fire."

“Behind me, I can sense death: a burning airplane that contains the bodies of two pilots and two good friends. Less than a minute from now, it will explode.

“In front of me, there is a highway. Nothing that is happening feels real, or even possible. If I make it to the highway, I think that maybe I can stay alive. I hear people screaming at me, but I don’t know what they’re saying. All I care about is trying to survive.

“I want to see my children, my wife, my father, my sisters. In the final seconds of my life, anything that isn’t important goes up in flames. With every step I’m taking, everything in my life is burning away, except for my family."

Barker did say the experience did lead to positive lifestyle changes, including overcoming a painkiller addiction. While he was told he'd be on pain management medication for the rest of his life due to his injuries, he got off them all soon after his release from the hospital.

Barker refrained from flying — even for work. That meant having to travel by boat to Europe for performances.

However, in May, several months into his romance with Kardashian, he told Men's Health he planned to fly again.

“I have to,” said Barker, who had extensive therapy after the crash. “I want to make the choice to try and overcome it.”

He said it was for closure, but also because it would help him feel normal. He shared the example of imagining coming home from a trip, dropping his bags and catching up with his kids.

“If I do it, and the angels above help me in my travels and keep me safe, I would like to come back and [tell them], ‘Hey, I just flew here, and then I flew home. And everything was fine.’ I have to tell them, because I almost left them,” Barker said. “That’s a perfect day.”

According to E! News, Kardashian played a role in getting Barker to fly again — by showing her support.

"This has been something that Travis has been working on for some time," a source close to Travis told the outlet. "It's something he's wanted to do and to overcome. Kourtney has been incredibly loving and supportive and it is through her love, help and confidence in him that he was able to finally do this. The people that have been close to Travis since his crash are so very excited for him."