Pilot in crash 'warned soul singer's group that plane was overloaded'

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 28 August 2001 00:00 BST

A plane that crashed in the Bahamas killing nine people, including the soul singer Aaliyah, may have been dangerously overloaded with luggage.

Just before the plane took off on Saturday night, the pilot is said to have argued with the singer's entourage over the amount of equipment they were carrying to Florida, having shot a video on the Bahamas.

Veteran Bahamian charter pilot Lewis Key, told the New York Post on Monday that he heard the argument before the plane took off.

Mr Key said: "With nine people and all the camera and sound equipment they were loading, the pilot kept saying, 'There's too much weight for a safe flight to Opa-Locka [airport in Miami]. He tried to convince them the plane was overloaded but they insisted they had chartered the plane and they had to be in Miami on Saturday night."

The crash happenedmoments after the twin- engined Cessna 402 took off from Marsh Harbour airport on Abaco Island. New Yorker Aaliyah, 22, who had been nominated for a Grammy award, was killed instantly. Six others died at the scene, and the remaining two members of the group died later in hospital.

Crash investigators are examining the theory that one of the aircraft's engines failed and the extra weight may have caused the pilot to lose control.

"Several people have said they lost an engine on take-off," added Mr Key, "but I guess the only people who know that for sure were on the plane ­ and they're all gone now." One of the investigators searching through the wreckage for clues, Police Superintendent Basil Rahming, said an engine "apparently failed".

A team of specialists from the US National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration left for the Bahamas on Monday.

George Thomas, a witness, said the plane climbed to about 50 feet then it veered to the left, plummeted nose-first into a swamp and burst into flames.

"It didn't look like anyone could survive that crash," he said. "The nose was broken right off and the fuselage was crumpled and there was TV equipment and luggage scattered about. It was an awful sight."

A statement from Aaliyah's publicist said: "Aaliyah's family is devastated at the loss of their loving daughter and sister. Their hearts go out to the families who also lost their loved ones in this tragic accident."

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