Aaliyah: The Plane Crash, Passing &Wrongful Death Lawsuit
On August 25, 2001, at 6:45 pm (EST), Aaliyah and various members of the record company boarded a twin engine Cessna 402B (N8097W) at Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to the airport in Opa-locka, Florida, after they completed filming the music video for “Rock the Boat”. They had a flight scheduled the following day, but with filming finishing early, Aaliyah and her entourage were eager to return to the United States. They made the decision to leave immediately. Against the advice of baggage handlers and the pilot, all the equipment from the shoot was loaded on the plane. The group was unaware that the plane was unable to hold all the equipment of the Cessna 404 they had initially flown in by. Therefore, the aircraft exceeded the standard weight and balance tolerance limit provided by Cessna. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. Aaliyah, pilot Luis Morales III, hair stylist Eric Forman, Anthony Dodd, security guard Scott Gallin, video producer Douglas Kratz, stylist Christopher Maldonado, and Blackground Records employees Keith Wallace and Gina Smith died.
According to findings from an inquest, conducted by the coroner’s office in The Bahamas, Aaliyah suffered from “severe burns and a blow to the head”, in addition to severe shock and a weak heart. The coroner theorized that, even if Aaliyah had survived the crash, her recovery would have been virtually impossible given the severity of her injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report stated that “the airplane was seen lifting off the runway, and then nose down, impacting in a marsh on the south side of the departure end of runway 27.” It also indicated that the pilot was not approved to pilot the plane he was attempting to fly. Morales falsely obtained his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license by showing hundreds of hours never flown, and he may also have falsified how many hours he had flown in order to get a job with his employer, Blackhawk International Airways. Additionally, an autopsy performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Further investigations determined the plane was over its total gross weight by 700 pounds and was loaded with one more passenger than it was allowed to carry. John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association stated that the plane was “definitely overloaded”. The NTSB reported that the total gross weight of the plane was “substantially exceeded”, which caused the center of gravity to be pushed too far aft.
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Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The day of the crash was Morales’ first official day with Blackhawk International Airways, an FAA Part 135 single-pilot operation. In addition, Morales was not registered with the FAA to fly for Blackhawk. As a result of the accident, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Aaliyah’s parents and was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Barry & Sons, Inc., a corporation formed in 1992 to develop, promote and capitalize Aaliyah and to oversee the production and distribution of her records and music videos, brought an unsuccessful lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against Instinct Productions LLC, the company that was hired in August 2001 to produce the music video for “Rock the Boat”. The case was dismissed due to New York’s wrongful death statute only permitting certain people to recover damages for wrongful death.
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