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AALIYAH MOURNED;
INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
An Aaliyah Tribute, Complete With Links
To All Her Videos
As mourners paid their last respects to rising star Aaliyah (born Aaliyah Dana Haughton), who was killed along with eight others when their chartered plane crashed on takeoff in the Bahamas on Aug. 25, grieving fans flocked to record stores last week to memorialize the singer/actress in their CD collections. Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause of the crash continues to uncover strange details about the charter company and the pilot who flew himself and his passengers to their deaths.

Aaliyah’s eponymous third album ascended to the top of the HITS Top 50 Albums chart this week based on an enormous sales increase in the wake of the tragedy, posting one of the biggest week-over-week gains ever. Sales of her previous album, One in a Million, also increased by about a factor of 20, to around 25,000 this week, further demonstrating the depth of her shocked audience’s devotion.

Funeral services for the 22-year-old singer took place last Friday (8/31) in New York. In addition to parents Diane and Michael Haughton and brother Rashad, a contingent of some 1,200 invited guests gathered, including Busta Rhymes, Roc-a-Fella CEO Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Gladys Knight (once married to Aaliyah’s uncle, Blackground Entertainment’s Barry Hankerson), Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Mya, P. Diddy, Mike Tyson, Usher, movie producer Joel Silver (Romeo Must Die, The Matrix) and Romeo Must Die co-star Delroy Lindo.

Public memorials including candlelight vigils and a daylong, label-sponsored event in New York continued throughout the week, as did retrospectives on MTV (culminating with a tribute on Thursday’s VMAs), VH1, BET and E! Entertainment. Destiny’s Child singer Beyonce Knowles remembered Aaliyah at the Soul Train Lady of Soul awards Aug. 28; a recovering Mariah Carey sent condolences via her website ("…life is really, really precious, and I just want to send out my deepest sympathy and love to Aaliyah and her family"). Radio tributes have been many, including WJLB in Detroit, Aaliyah’s hometown.

The Haughton family has established an Aaliyah Memorial Fund via the Entertainment Industry Foundation (Hitsdailydouble, 8/29), with money raised to go to breast cancer charities with which Aaliyah was involved. In Detroit, a memorial service is being planned, and an Aaliyah Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established in conjunction with community-service organization Operation Get Down (founded 30 years ago by Blackground’s Hankerson). The fund will provide annual financial assistance to students attending Aaliyah’s alma mater, the Detroit High School of Fine and Performing Arts (Checks to Aaliyah Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o First Independence National Bank, 44 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226. Information: 313-461-6268).

According to Blackground Sr. VP Parrish Johnson, information regarding additional memorials will be available shortly.

Granting a rare interview to CNN, Hankerson remembered his niece, alluding to her "quiet kind of charisma" and saying, "I think what we need to focus on right now is that nine families are heartbroken, and it really doesn’t matter how it happened, because [even] if we find out, it’s not going to bring anybody back."

But investigators in the Bahamas and the Florida office of the FAA continue their efforts to learn the cause of the devastating crash. A preliminary report released by the Bahamian Civil Aviation Department last Thursday (8/30) indicates that the investigation of the crash site has been completed and that both of the Cessna 402B’s engines were checked and appear to have been working normally. That leaves the weight theory, and the report states that the plane was loaded to within about 800 pounds of its weight limit before any of the nine passengers boarded—meaning the plane would have been overloaded by about seven hundred pounds, using the aviation-standard "average passenger" weight of 170 pounds. The remainder of the investigation, including an examination of the aircraft’s propellers, will be conducted in Florida.

According to CNN, Cessna Pilots’ Association executive director John Frank has said that if the excess weight made the plane tail-heavy, it could have caused the pilot to lose control. CNN also reports that both the pilot and baggage handlers complained that the plane was being overloaded prior to takeoff.

Meanwhile, questions surround the charter company, Blackhawk International Airways, and the pilot of the doomed flight, Luis Antonio Morales. According to the New York Times, the FAA is looking into the relationship between Blackhawk and SkyStream Inc., the registered owner of the plane, in order to determine which company was operating the plane at the time of the crash. Blackhawk, which was listed as the operator in Customs documents, only had authorization for one pilot to operate the Cessna, and according to the FAA, the authorized pilot was not Morales.

According to various published reports, Blackhawk has been fined four times by the FAA in three years for violating safety rules, failing to test employees for drugs and maintenance lapses. And it was revealed last week that Morales had recently been arrested for possession of crack cocaine, grand theft and dealing in stolen property.

These grim details assure a lengthy legal ordeal once the investigation is completed. The New York Post recently reported that Blackhawk President Gilbert Chacon made it known through a friend that the flight had been booked for only five passengers, in an apparent bid to shift blame. The Post also reports that attorneys retained by victims’ families include Aaron Podhurst, who litigated the 1988 Pan Am disaster over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Attorney Patrick Bailey, a specialist in international aviation law, says: "It doesn’t matter if two people book and eight show up—that has no relevance at all. The relevance is whether the airplane is over gross or within center of gravity when you put all the people and their baggage on. That’s the only issue. Not who promised, or who was going to show up or who didn’t. Would it be a highly relevant factor if this airplane had been misloaded? Yes."

Details remain sketchy as to what degree of legal exposure each company involved in the crash faces. Blackhawk and SkyStream are clearly at the front lines, but Atlantic Flight Group, a Miami company that booked the flight for the Aaliyah group, video director Hype Williams’ production company (which contracted the video shoot from which the group was returning), Aaliyah’s labels Blackground and Virgin Records and even Virgin parent EMI could potentially be drawn into a legal showdown.

"Are these companies at risk for lawsuits? Yes. Are they at risk for liability? That’s a whole separate analysis, and the more attenuated they are from direct contact, the less likely they are to have liability," Bailey says. "But, hypothetically, if the charter operator is a smaller company with, on the surface, limited resources, you’ll find that the aviation lawyers will look to any other participants in that chain that rightfully are exposed to liability. It’s simply a matter of economics."

Following an appearance on Star Search, the Brooklyn-born, Detroit-raised Aaliyah rose to fame at 15 with 1994’s million-selling (U.S.) "Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number" (Blackground/Jive), produced by R. Kelly, to whom she was said to be married briefly. In 1996, she returned with the Timbaland/Missy Elliott-produced "One in a Million" (Blackground/Atlantic), which has sold about 2 million copies in the U.S. Title track "One in a Million" was a hit, leading the way to 1998’s "Are You That Somebody" (again with Timbaland), which was featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. Then, last year, the singer came with two more breakthrough singles, "Try Again" and "Come Back in One Piece," both featured in Romeo Must Die, in which Aaliyah starred opposite Jet Li.

Aaliyah, the singer’s third album and first on Blackground/Virgin, was released on July 17 and debuted at #2 on the HITS chart, led by the first single "We Need a Resolution." After a period of sagging sales, a second single, "Rock the Boat," had begun to buoy the album in recent weeks. All five of her completed videos can be accessed by clicking on the links by each photo.

In addition to the "Rock the Boat" video, which Aaliyah and crew had just finished shooting at the time of the accident, the singer had recently completed a video for "More Than a Woman" and had filmed Queen of the Damned (an adaptation of an Anne Rice novel) and had already completed initial shooting for the first Matrix sequel. She was to have finished shooting both the first and second Matrix sequels in Australia early next year.

As for the "Rock the Boat" footage, director Williams says he hopes the world will get to see it. "It’s a very special project," he told SonicNet.com. "I know there’s a lot of pain involved, but that’s all the more reason people would appreciate what we’ve done as a group." A decision has yet to be made as to the fate of the footage.

However, in his CNN interview, Hankerson intimated that the world may yet hear and see more of his niece. When asked if he could imagine Aaliyah’s mystique growing as time passes, he said, "I think, you know, that’s what’s going to happen. It does have a flair to it of the unfinished song, the unfinished play…the public at large wants to dream about what she could have done and how far she could have gone."

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