Crash Pilot Had Criminal Record

The pilot of the ill-fated Cessna carrying rising R&B star Aaliyah had a recent criminal record, including a crack-cocaine violation that had him in a Florida court less than two weeks before the

The pilot of the ill-fated Cessna carrying rising R&B star Aaliyah had a recent criminal record, including a crack-cocaine violation that had him in a Florida court less than two weeks before the plane went down in the Bahamas, authorities said. Luis Antonio Morales Blanes' record came to light yesterday (Aug. 29) as investigators continued scouring the wreckage in search of clues to what may have caused the crash. Excess weight is being considered as a possible factor.

NBC "Nightly News," citing unidentified sources, reported the plane was over its maximum takeoff weight by 700 pounds to 1,500 pounds. The maximum takeoff weight for a Cessna 402B is 6,300 pounds, according to aviation experts. Asked about the report, Randy Butler, lead investigator from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Department, told The Associated Press, "We're not willing to speculate at this time." He said not every single item from the plane had been weighed and he would not give a partial weight.

Butler also said the two companies that owned and operated the plane did not have a permit to operate in the Bahamas. In the U.S., where the company was cleared for charter flights, Morales was not authorized to fly the plane.

Aaliyah, the 22-year-old Grammy-nominated performer, was leaving the Bahamas following a shoot for a music video when the plane went down just after takeoff Saturday on Abaco Island, 100 miles north of Nassau. All nine occupants died.

Morales, 30, was in court 12 days before the crash; he was sentenced to three years probation on a series of chartes, including the drug charge stemming from a July 7 traffic stop, Broward County prosecutors said. Authorities said crack cocaine residue was found on a front seat during a search of Morales' 1993 Volkswagen after he ran a stop sign in Pompano Beach. He pleaded no contest to the possession charge.

A spokesperson for the prosecutors, said Morales was also sentenced for a charge of trying to peddle $345 worth of stolen airplane parts last year and a theft charge for allegedly stealing a model airplane and tool box.

Investigators were working to determine why Morales was at the controls. He did not have federal authorization to fly the twin-engine Cessna and had not been listed as the pilot for the plane by Blackhawk International Airways, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said. The company is cleared by American officials to fly charters under an air-taxi certificate, which authorizes a single pilot to fly the plane, she said. But that pilot wasn't Morales, according to the spokesperson.

The FAA is also still trying to clarify the relationship between Blackhawk and the plane's registered owner, the Florida company Skystream. The Miami Herald reported yesterday that Blackhawk was listed on customs documents as the flight's operator. "It is not unusual for one company to lease an aircraft to another, but that's something we have to clarify with regard to this flight," the FAA spokesperson said.

Blackhawk officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. Skystream has an unlisted telephone number.

The spokesperson also said Blackhawk was cited by the FAA four times from 1997 through 2000 for various violations, including failing to follow drug-testing rules for employees in 1999 and failing to perform proper aircraft maintenance last year.

Meanwhile, fans are being encouraged to attend a public memorial in honor of Aaliyah tomorrow (Aug. 31) at Cipriani's 42nd Street (110 E. 42nd St.) in New York, beginning at 10 a.m. A continuous loop of Aaliyah's videos, performances, and music will be played throughout the event, which will end at 8 p.m.

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