A heated argument about the weight of equipment erupted between the pilot of the plane carrying singer Aaliyah and her video crew minutes before their tragic Bahamas crash, sources told The New York Post Sunday.
The pilot, who thought the plane was being dangerously overloaded, gave in, according to veteran Bahamian charter pilot Lewis Key, who said he overheard the dispute just before the plane took off and then crashed, killing all aboard.
"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],'" Key told The Post.
"He tried to convince them the plane was overloaded, but they insisted they had chartered the plane and they had to be in Miami Saturday night."
The crash occurred Saturday evening, seconds after the twin-engine Cessna 402 took off from Marsh Harbour airport on Abaco Island. Grammy-nominated Aaliyah, 22, was killed instantly.
Six others died at the scene, and two died in hospitals.
Another possible cause of the tragedy, Keys said, could have been engine failure.
Keys said the pilot had trouble getting one of the engines started, adding, "Several people have said they lost an engine on takeoff.
"But I guess the only people who know that for sure were on the plane — and they're all gone."
Witness George Thomas said the plane slowly climbed to about 50 feet when 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," Thomas 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. Some bodies were so badly disfigured, you couldn't identify them. And two guys were alive — one screaming and screaming for help. He was horribly burned all over."
A local official, Silbert Mills, helped rescue the injured.
"I pulled one from the aircraft, and he was screaming," Mills said. "He said he was in a lot of pain."
Investigators today were wading through smoldering swampland, carting off sand-covered luggage and examining the wreckage for clues to the cause of the disaster.
In Nassau, pathologists were working on identifying the badly burned bodies.
A team of investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to join the probe today.
Aaliyah and the crew had been returning to the United States after filming a video.
The tragedy stunned her fans, friends, family and collaborators.
"Aaliyah's family is devastated at the loss of their loving daughter and sister," a statement issued through the singer's publicist said. "Their hearts go out to those families who also lost their loved ones in this tragic accident."
Lizzie Grubman, spokeswoman for the singer's latest love, Damon Dash, would not comment on the death.
But sources said Aaliyah was the love of Dash's life, and he is so "completely traumatized" by her death, he has not gotten out of bed since he heard the news.
Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones said, "She was like one of my daughters. She was one of the sweetest girls in the world."
The other passengers killed were: Keith Wallace, 49; Virgin Records employee Douglas Kratz, 28; makeup artist Eric Foreman, 29; Gina Smith, 29; and Anthony Dodd, 34, all of Los Angeles; and Christopher Maldonado, 32, of New Jersey and Scott Gallian, 41, whose residence was not given. The pilot, identified only as L. Maradel, also died.
Police were relying on handwritten cards filled out before the flight and were not sure about the spellings of the victims' names and did not have everyone's hometowns.
Aaliyah, 22, accomplished much during her brief career:
* Age Ain't Nothing But a Number (1994), sold more than 700,000 copies.
* One in a Million (1996), sold more than 2 million copies.
* Aaliyah (2001), released in July, has sold more than 500,000 copies.
* Romeo Must Die (2000).
* Aaliyah had been signed to star in an adaptation of Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned (2002) and two sequels to The Matrix (2003 and 2004).
* New York Undercover (Fox).
* Grammy nomination for "Are You That Somebody" from the movie Dr. Dolittle.