U.S. Joins Investigation Of Crash That Killed Aaliyah

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - The investigation into the plane crash that killed 22-year-old singer Aaliyah and eight others widened Monday as U.S. officials joined efforts to determine what caused the aircraft to go down shortly after takeoff.

Aaliyah and the others had come to the Bahamas to shoot a music video, authorities said. Their twin-engine Cessna was bound for Opa-locka, Fla., when it went down roughly 200 feet from the end of the runway at Marsh Harbour airport on Abaco Island, 100 miles north of Nassau on Saturday.

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. "It departed and he rotated the nose (of the plane) and lifted off the ground. After that he pulled his landing gear up and then the plane veered slightly to the left and then it went toward the ground."

Sawyer said he saw the plane disappear below the trees and then saw a ball of fire. He could not hear any engine noise.

Plane Too Heavy?

Bahamian investigators have searched through the wreckage for clues to the crash. Police Superintendent Basil Rahming said only that one of the Cessna's engines "apparently failed."

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 on Saturday night she saw a pickup truck headed toward the plane with equipment and luggage that towered above the truck's sideboards.

"I thought, 'That's a lot of stuff to be on a plane with nine passengers,"' she told AP.

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

Authorities from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived Monday.

Family Grieves

Aaliyah, 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. She is survived by her mother, father and brother.

"Aaliyah's family is devastated at the loss of their loving daughter and sister," said a statement from the singer's publicist, PMK. "Their hearts go out to those families who also lost their loved ones."

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.

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