U.S. officials join investigation of crash that killed singer Aaliyah, eight others | TahoeDailyTribune.com

U.S. officials join investigation of crash that killed singer Aaliyah, eight others

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) – U.S. aviation officials searched for clues Monday in the plane crash that killed the singer Aaliyah and eight others, saying they would investigate whether excess weight from production equipment may have hindered the takeoff.

Aaliyah, 22, and the others were in the Bahamas shooting a music video. Their twin-engine Cessna was bound for Opa-locka, Fla., when it went down Saturday in clear skies with little wind roughly 200 feet from the end of the runway at Marsh Harbour airport on Abaco Island, 100 miles north of Nassau.

”We’re just in the beginning stages of the investigation,” said Alan Yurman, from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Yurman said the Federal Aviation Administration, the makers of the plane and local aviation officials were helping in the investigation, which will include examining how much weight the plane was carrying and how that could have affected takeoff.

”It is one of many possibilities that we’re considering,” said Bahamian aviation investigator Randy Butler.

John Frank, executive director of the Santa Maria, Calif.-based Cessna Pilots Association, said the Cessna 402B can safely carry about 2,300 pounds, which includes passengers, fuel and baggage. The passengers and fuel alone on the plane would have been at least 1,600 pounds.

”There’s a very good possibility this aircraft was carrying a bigger load than it was certified to carry,” he said.

Frank said it’s possible for an overloaded plane to take off because of ”ground effect,” or when an airplane gets a boost from the cushion of air that builds up close to the ground.

”An aircraft can get off the ground much more easily than it can climb after that,” he said.

On Monday, two local newspapers, The Tribune and The Freeport News, quoted a baggage handler they did not name as saying he had warned the pilot that the plane was too heavy for a safe takeoff.

Gloria Knoles, an office manager for Abaco Air, a local airline that flies in the Bahamas and Florida, said she saw a pickup truck on Saturday headed toward the plane with equipment and luggage that towered above the truck’s sideboards.

Cameron Sands, a local who hauled much of the luggage after the crash, said the bags filled the bed of his truck, and one large suitcase seemed to weigh at least 150 pounds.

Lewis Key, a Bahamian pilot on Abaco, said he heard rumors the plane was overloaded, but he did not believe extra weight could have caused the crash if both engines were working.

Key, who said he has flown the same model of Cessna in the past, said that judging by the distribution of the wreckage, it appeared the plane veered off sharply, indicating a failed engine.

A witness, Claude Sawyer, said he was alongside the runway when the plane started to plummet.

”It appeared to be a normal takeoff,” Sawyer, a 25-year-old pilot, told The Associated Press on Monday. ”After that he pulled his landing gear up and then the plane veered slightly to the left and then it went toward the ground.”

The plane burst into flames shortly afterward.

Aaliyah (pronounced Ah-LEE-yah), who had two Grammy nominations, a platinum album and several high-profile movie roles, was killed instantly. Five others on board also died in the crash, while three more died later of their injuries, Rahming said.

Born in New York City and raised in Detroit, Aaliyah – whose name in Arabic means ”powerful one” – had deep roots in the R&B community. She later returned to live in Manhattan.

On Monday, hundreds of fans posted remembrances on the Web while a larger-than-life portrait of Aaliyah sprouting wings took shape on the side of a building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

”Aaliyah’s family is devastated at the loss of their loving daughter and sister,” said a statement from her publicist, PMK.

Police identified the other victims as bodyguard Scott Gallin, 41; Keith Wallace, 49, of Los Angeles; Douglas Kratz, 28, a representative for Virgin Records, makeup artist Eric Foreman, 29, Gina Smith, 29, all of Hollywood, Calif.; Anthony Dodd, 34, of Los Angeles; and Christopher Maldonado, 32, of New Jersey. The plane’s pilot, identified only as L. Maradel, also died.

The bodies were taken to the morgue at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. Seven of the nine had been identified and arrangements were being made to fly them back to the United States, U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Bachman said.

The Cessna 402B was owned by Skystream, a company in Pembroke Pines, Fla., said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the FAA in Atlanta. The company’s telephone number was not listed, and company officials could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for Wichita, Kan.-based Cessna, Marilyn Richwine, said she was not aware of any safety problems with the twin-engine 402B.

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