R&B singer and actress Aaliyah, eight others die in plane crash
The Cessna carrying Aaliyah and her party plummeted to earth in perfect weather Saturday afternoon soon after takeoff for Florida. A day later, investigators had few answers about what could have caused the crash. Police Superintendent Basil Rahming said only that one of the Cessna’s engines ”apparently failed.”
Aaliyah, who at age 22 already had a Grammy nomination, a platinum album and several high-profile acting credits under her belt, was killed instantly. Five others on board also died at the scene, while three more died later of their injuries, Rahming said.
A native of New York City and resident of Detroit, Aaliyah had deep roots in the R&B community. Saturday’s crash left fans, friends and collaborators in mourning.
”She was like one of my daughters, she was one of the sweetest girls in the world,” said Grammy-winning producer, arranger and composer Quincy Jones. ”She vacationed with me and my family together in Fiji. I loved her and respected her and I am absolutely devastated.”
Aaliyah and the others in her party had come to the Bahamas to shoot a music video, authorities said. Their plane was bound for Opa-locka, Fla., in perfect weather when it went down on Abaco Island, roughly 200 feet from the end of the runway at Marsh Harbour airport.
On Sunday, the Cessna’s nose section was lying about 20 yards from the rest of the battered fuselage, and luggage and pieces of the plane were scattered about, covered in sand.
Abaco Island Chief Councilor Silbert Mills said he was at the airport 100 miles north of Nassau when the plane took off and then crashed. He said he helped rescue the injured.
”I pulled one from the aircraft, and he was screaming,” Mills said. ”He said he was in a lot of pain.”
Rahming said the other passengers included five Southern California residents: Keith Wallace, 49, and Anthony Dodd, 34, from Los Angeles and Douglas Kratz, 28, a representative for Virgin Records, makeup artist Eric Foreman, 29, and Gina Smith, 29, all from the Hollywood area of Los Angeles. Also killed were Christopher Maldonado, 32, of New Jersey and Scott Gallian, 41. The plane’s pilot, identified only as L. Maradel, also died.
Police were relying on handwritten cards filled out before the flight and were not sure about the spellings of the victims’ names and did not have everyone’s hometowns, said Assistant Superintendent Leland Russell.
A team of investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will join the investigation Monday, said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.
The bodies were taken to the morgue at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where they were to be kept for relatives to help identify them, U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Bachman said. Some were badly burned in the crash, authorities said.
Virgin Records offered to pay for the relatives to come, Bachman said. The company also was considering bringing the bodies to Miami to be met by family members there, but no arrangements have yet been made, he said.
Ray Cooper, co-president of Virgin Records in Beverly Hills, declined to comment but said the company would issue a statement later in the day.
The Bahamian government is expected to invite U.S. agencies to join the investigation, Bachman said. A team from the National Transportation and Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration could arrive in the Bahamas on Monday, he said.
The Cessna 402 was owned by Skystream, a company based in Pembroke Pines, Fla., said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta. The company’s telephone number was not listed, and company officials could not immediately 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 402 model. The company has not manufactured that model for about 12 to 15 years, she said.
Aaliyah was to begin shooting the video for ”Rock The Boat” this month in Miami, according to her Web site. It was not clear whether she filmed that video while in the Bahamas.
Aaliyah’s song ”Try Again” earned her a Grammy nomination this year for best female R&B vocalist. In 1996, she released her second album, and the single ”If Your Girl Only Knew” went double platinum.
Aaliyah made her feature acting debut in last year’s film ”Romeo Must Die” and was signed on to appear in two sequels to the high-tech thriller ”The Matrix.”
She was born Aaliyah Haughton on Jan. 16, 1979, in Brooklyn. She made her stage debut as an orphan in a production of ”Annie” at the age of 6. Her uncle was married to soul singer Gladys Knight, who invited Aaliyah to perform with her during a five-night stint in Las Vegas at age 11.
Aaliyah struck a licensing deal as a teen-ager after her uncle, Barry Hankerson, formed Blackground Records.
She went gold with her debut album, ”Age Ain’t Nothing But Number,” in 1994 – when she was 15 – and benefitted from working closely with hip-hop artist R. Kelly.
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