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MOLINE, ILL. – Past midnight Saturday, the Quad City International Airport was deserted and silent as a cleaning woman wiped the Delta ticketing counter.

"All kinds of rumors," she said, shaking her head. "Everybody is wondering."

What happened to Prince here in a middle-of-the-night medical emergency landing just days before he died? Did it prefigure his subsequent collapse inside Paisley Park?

Those questions have made this city the unlikely center of a mystery riveting the world's attention.

Situated along the Mississippi River with a population of 44,000, Moline was founded on the riverboat trade but is best known now for the corporate headquarters of John Deere. Located 165 miles west of Chicago and 360 miles southeast of Minneapolis, it also sits underneath busy air corridors.

And with no other large runways nearby, it's not uncommon for Quad City International to become an emergency destination for flights diverted for medical reasons, said Jeff Patterson, the airport public safety manager/police and fire chief.

Just after 1:15 a.m. on April 15, Prince's private plane became the latest coming in for a surprise landing, according to federal aviation records.

On the ground, an emergency call came in for an "unresponsive individual," airport Human Resources Manager Jo Johnson confirmed Saturday.

Runway emergency

Members of the Moline Fire Department, which has its own EMTs and ambulances, rushed to the runway and took the sick passenger to a nearby hospital, though Johnson couldn't confirm which one.

Within hours, Prince was back in the air. Federal aviation records show that his plane left Moline by 11 a.m., resuming its initial trip from Atlanta to the Twin Cities.

A source close to the musician later blamed the emergency landing on dehydration. The crisis came after Prince had postponed an Atlanta show a week earlier because of the flu. The TMZ website, citing unidentified sources, reported that Prince had been treated for an overdose of Percocet, a painkiller that contains acetaminophen and the opioid oxycodone.

Moline's proximity to the Twin Cities — Prince's plane was less than an hour from the Minneapolis area when it diverted — fed the speculation that his illness must have been more serious than dehydration.

It was less than a week later when a similar emergency call was made in Chanhassen Thursday morning, after members of Prince's staff couldn't reach him at Paisley Park.

The frantic 911 call came at 9:43 a.m. Emergency responders arrived within minutes to find Prince on the floor of an elevator inside his home studio. He was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m.

Martha Weaver, a spokeswoman for the Midwest medical examiner's office, would not say Friday whether Prince was already dead when he was found.

But the unidentified 911 caller said "the person is dead here," according to a transcript of the call. Later, the caller said, "Yes, it's Prince."

Three people were present when police arrived, but they have not been identified. Investigators said it wouldn't have been unusual for Prince to be by himself in the 55,000-square-foot complex.

An autopsy was completed Friday, officials said, and the body was released to the family for a private funeral. A family spokesman said later in the day that Prince's body had been cremated.

A final report on the cause of death likely won't be made public for weeks, and Weaver said her office wouldn't release any preliminary information.

Told not to talk

Airport and city workers here, one of the four Quad Cities hugging the river along the Illinois-Iowa border, have found themselves inundated with questions in recent days.

Several at the small airport — it has only two baggage carousels, one TSA checkpoint, a gift shop and restaurant — said they were instructed not to speak to reporters.

While the airport has a safety officer on hand 24 hours a day, its tower closes in the middle of the night and emergency calls are routed through air traffic controllers in Chicago.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755