Expert: Aaliyah Plane Was Overloaded

The twin-engine plane that crashed with the singer Aaliyah and eight others on board was carrying more than the recommended number of passengers, the plane's manufacturer said. Nine people were on boa

The twin-engine plane that crashed with the singer Aaliyah and eight others on board was carrying more than the recommended number of passengers, the plane's manufacturer said. Nine people were on board, but the Cessna 402B is certified to carry only six to eight people, including the pilot, according to a Cessna Aircraft Co. spokesperson.

Bahamian aviation officials, meanwhile, released their first report describing the weight of the plane that crashed under clear skies after takeoff Saturday. The estimated weight of the plane, luggage and fuel was about 5,495 pounds, not including the nine occupants and one bag lost in the swampy area, the Civil Aviation Department said.

Investigators declined to say whether the plane was overweight at takeoff, but an independent expert on the Cessna 402B and other models said it was. "No question about it, they were overloaded," said John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association, a group based in Santa Maria, Calif., that is not affiliated with the plane's manufacturer.

The maximum authorized takeoff weight for the Cessna 402B is 6,300 pounds, but the plane alone accounted for about 4,117 pounds, investigators said. That would allow for an additional 2,183 pounds to include bags, fuel, and passengers.

Aaliyah's plane was carrying about 574 pounds of baggage and an estimated 804 pounds of fuel. That would allow for slightly more than 800 pounds for the combined weight of the nine adults. Officials were still working to determine the total weight of the passengers.

Both of the plane's engines appeared to have been working, investigators said. Frank said the pilot probably lost control due to the plane's weight. The plane crashed at Marsh Harbour airport on Abaco Island, 100 miles north of Nassau.

Aaliyah, who at 22 was a two-time Grammy nominee for best female R&B vocalist, was leaving the Bahamas following a video shoot. A private funeral and a public memorial service were held today (Aug. 31) in New York.

Bahamian and U.S. investigators have moved the wreckage to a hangar, where they are examining it. An investigator from Cessna Aircraft Co., based in Wichita, Kan. also was participating. The Civil Aviation Department said the "on-scene" phase of the investigation was finished. The plane's propellers are to be examined in the United States, and aircraft maintenance records have yet to be recovered.

Such accidents also require a coroner's inquiry, in which witnesses such as investigators and aircraft owners testify in an open coroner's court, said Inspector Bradley Neely, who as the coroner's marshal would present the case to a jury. The seven-person jury would then recommend whether charges should be filed against anyone. Neely said he didn't know when the inquiry would begin.

Officials with the charter airline, Blackhawk International Airways, did not return calls seeking comment.

Blackhawk was cited by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration four times between 1997 and 2000 for various violations, including failing to follow drug-testing rules for employees in 1999 and failing to perform proper aircraft maintenance last year, FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen said.

Neither Blackhawk nor Skystream, the plane's registered owner, had a permit to operate commercial charter flights in the Bahamas, said lead investigator Randy Butler of the Civil Aviation Department. Both companies are based near Miami.

The pilot, Luis Antonio Morales Blanes, was sentenced to three years of probation on charges of crack cocaine possession 12 days before the crash. Morales, 30, was originally from Puerto Rico and had been living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. His body was flown back to Puerto Rico on Thursday.

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