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Families of two victims of crash that killed R&B singer Aaliyah file lawsuits

The Associated Press

By Tom Harrigan – Associated Press Writer

February 28, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Virgin Records was negligent in chartering a small plane in which singer-actress Aaliyah and eight other people died last year, according to wrongful death lawsuits filed Wednesday on behalf of two victims’ families.

The survivors of Aaliyah, who was among Wednesday night’s Grammy Award nominees and the star of last weekend’s top-grossing film, “Queen of the Damned,” were not among the plaintiffs.

Family members of Los Angeles-based hair stylists Eric Forman, 29, and Anthony Dodd, 34, filed their respective lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court against Virgin Records America, affiliated music and video production units, the plane’s owner and the charter air company hired for the Aug. 25 flight.

All nine people aboard the Florida-bound plane died when it crashed immediately after taking off from an airfield in the Bahamas. The lawsuits allege that the aircraft was overloaded with passengers, luggage and equipment used in a video shoot, and that the pilot “was not approved to act as pilot of the accident aircraft.”

Brian J. Panish, the families’ attorney, said Virgin “took profits over the safety of transporting people” by using what he called a “fly-by-night” charter aircraft company. The families seek unspecified monetary damages and “answers to why this tragedy occurred,” Panish said.

He said he believes no other legal action has been filed by Aaliyah’ s family or anyone else involved with the crash.

A spokesperson for Virgin Records in Los Angeles and an attorney representing Aaliyah’s relatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the lawsuits.

Aaliyah had been in the Bahamas’ Abaco Island to film a video for the song “Rock the Boat.” The song earned the 22-year-old a nomination for best female R&B vocal performance at Wednesday night’s Grammys in Los Angeles. She also had been nominated for best R&B album, but Alicia Keys won in both categories. Aaliyah had been nominated for Grammys twice before.

“Queen of the Damned,” in which Aaliyah plays an ancient vampire, was No. 1 with $14.8 million in its debut in North America last weekend.

Panish said the lawsuits were not timed to the film’s release or the Grammys. They were filed in Los Angeles because Virgin and other defendants do business in the city, and because that’s where arrangements for the flight were made, he said.

In addition to Virgin Records America, the defendants listed were music video director Harold “Hype” Williams, Instinct Productions Inc., Big Dog House Films, Blackground Records LLC, Skystream, Inc. and Blackhawk International Airways.

Blackhawk is the Florida-based charter air company hired for the flight. The twin-engine Cessna 402B was registered to Skystream, the lawsuit said.

A Cessna Aircraft spokeswoman, Jessica Myers, has said the plane was certified to carry only six to eight people.

A report by Bahamian aviation officials said the estimated weight of the plane, luggage and fuel was about 5,495 pounds, not including the weight of the nine occupants. Maximum takeoff weight for the plane is 6,300 pounds, which would leave only 805 pounds for the pilot and passengers.

Neither Blackhawk nor Skystream, the plane’s registered owner, had a permit to operate commercial charter flights in the Bahamas, an investigator for the Bahamian Civil Aviation Department has said.

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