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Aaliyah plane was overloaded by hundreds of pounds



NASSAU, Bahamas (CNN) -- The small aircraft that crashed last weekend on the island of Abaco, killing singer Aaliyah and eight others, was overloaded by hundreds of pounds, officials said Thursday.

The extra weight -- and the way in which it was distributed -- most likely contributed to the plane's crash shortly after takeoff, said John Frank, executive director of the Cessna Pilots' Association.

According to a report released Thursday by the Bahamian Civil Aviation Department, the plane was loaded to within 805 pounds of its maximum takeoff weight, not counting the weight of the nine people on board -- one of those a 300-pound bodyguard.

"Clearly the airplane was above its certificated gross weight when it took off, by several hundred pounds at least," said Frank.

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Investigators say that the plane that crashed claiming the life of pop star Aaliyah was overloaded. CNN's John Zarrella reports (August 31)

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A private funeral for Aaliyah will be held Friday in New York, as will a public event at a restaurant near Grand Central Terminal. The 22-year-old actress and singer had been in the Bahamas filming a video for her latest album.

Immediately after the crash Saturday at Marsh Harbour airport, airport employees told CNN that baggage handlers and the pilot of the Cessna 402 had complained before takeoff that the aircraft was overloaded with luggage, but the passengers insisted on taking everything with them.

Thursday's report said the authorized takeoff weight of a Cessna 402 is 6,300 pounds. Weight and balance information recorded for the aircraft showed it weighed 4,117 pounds empty. The recovered baggage was weighed at 574 pounds -- not counting one suitcase that sank in the marshy area where the plane crashed -- and the fuel weighed 804 pounds, the report said.

That left 805 pounds available for the eight passengers and pilot -- or just under 90 pounds apiece.

Based on the weight of the luggage and the aircraft's full capacity of nine people, Frank said, "every nook and cranny of that airplane was packed."

He said the placement of the plane's cargo was as important as the weight, because a tail-heavy load can cause a pilot to lose control of an aircraft.

"When you start talking about control, weight doesn't matter so much, although it makes it harder to fly," Frank said. "Control is based on where the weight is placed."

Officials at the medical examiner's office in Nassau weighed the remains of the passengers. The Civil Aviation Department's report said that total has not yet been confirmed.

The report said the on-scene phase of the accident investigation has been completed. It said both of the plane's engines were examined and appear to have been producing power at the time of impact. It said the propellers will be examined in the United States, and the rest of the investigation will be continued in Florida, with the Bahamian team traveling to the FAA office there.

On Wednesday, the Broward County, Florida, sheriff's office told CNN that the pilot of the plane, Luis Morales, had been charged with cocaine possession on July 7. After being stopped for running a stop sign, he gave sheriff's deputies permission to search his car, and the crack cocaine was found, authorities said. He posted bond, and his case was later adjudicated.

Morales had 60 days to voluntarily report this incident to the FAA, which could have suspended or revoked his flight certificate. He was still within that period when he was killed.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen told CNN that Morales had no rules violations against him but confirmed he had a criminal record that might have affected his flying record.

The FAA is still attempting to pinpoint the charter company of record for the flight. The FAA's records show that the flight's operator, Blackhawk International Airways, is cleared to fly only as a "single pilot certificate." That is, only one pilot is licensed to fly for Blackhawk, and it was not Morales.

The registered owner of the plane is a Pembroke Pines, Florida, company, SkyStream. FAA officials said they are trying to determine the link between the two companies.






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