The tiny Cessna aircraft that crashed and killed Aaliyah and eight others on Saturday was overloaded, a report from investigators in the Bahamas shows.
In a statement issued Thursday, Randy Butler of the Bahamian Civil Aviation Department said the Cessna 402B was loaded with fuel and cargo to a weight of 5,495 pounds. Since the craft's maximum authorized takeoff weight is 6,300 pounds, that left only 805 pounds available for the passengers and pilot just under 90 pounds per person.
"The plane was definitely overloaded," said John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association, based in Santa Maria, California. Officials have yet to determine the exact weight of the people onboard the plane. They were able to weigh all baggage except one piece, which sank into a swamp, the statement said.
Overloading alone may not be enough to cause a crash, Frank said, adding that the behavior of the plane witnesses said it veered sharply to the left soon after takeoff suggests the load was not balanced evenly, which would have made the craft more difficult to handle. The report said the location of the bags on the aircraft before the crash has not been determined.
The report also said both of the plane's engines were in good working order and that the craft showed no evidence of "pre-crash damage." Butler said that information on the plane's maintenance records and pilot is still being gathered and that the craft's propellers will be examined in the U.S.
The pilot, Luis Morales III, pleaded no contest to charges of cocaine possession on August 13, according to Broward County court records (see "Pilot Of Aaliyah's Plane Had Been Caught With Cocaine, Was Not Authorized To Fly"). He had a clean flying record with no enforcement actions against him, Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Kathleen Bergen said.
Blackhawk International Airways, the plane's operator, was cited by the FAA four times between 1997 and 2000 for a total of nine violations that included failure to follow drug-testing rules and failure to perform proper maintenance, according to FAA documents. Three of the citations resulted in "letters of correction" from the agency, while one a 1998 citation for failing to comply with a foreign country's regulations while flying in that country drew a $1,500 fine, according to documents.
Butler also said that neither Blackhawk nor the plane's owner, Skystream Inc., was authorized to operate charter flights in the Bahamas. Calls to Blackhawk have not been returned, and Skystream's number is unlisted.
For complete coverage of the Aaliyah tragedy, check out "The Aaliyah Reports."