The body of the late pop and soul singer Aaliyah was flown back to the United States Tuesday as safety experts examined the plane that crashed in the Bahamas, killing her and eight others.
A private jet carrying the body of the 22-year-old singer and movie actress landed at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, and a hearse carried the casket away to an unknown location, according to sources.
Several hours earlier, heartbroken fans gathered outside a Nassau funeral home to watch as a black hearse drove away with Aaliyah’s body.
At Nassau International Airport, police stood guard while her white cardboard coffin, stamped “Extreme Care,” was loaded onto the jet bound for Newark Airport.
Virgin Records, which distributed records for Aaliyah’s label, Blackground Records, was handling the arrangements. Neither Virgin nor U.S. Embassy officials in Nassau would disclose details about her body’s arrival in the United States.
“Some of the families have expressed to us a desire not to share the information publicly. We’re going to respect that,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Bachman said.
Aaliyah and her crew, all U.S. citizens, were leaving Marsh Harbour in the northern Bahamas after shooting a music video when the twin-engine Cessna propeller plane crashed Saturday.
Witnesses said the plane climbed steeply, then veered left and crashed nose-first into swampy scrub, bursting into flames on impact just 200 feet from the runway. They also said they heard an engine sputter before the crash.
The remains of five other crash victims were also scheduled to be flown out of the Bahamas to California late Tuesday. A funeral home spokeswoman said she expected the bodies of all nine killed in the crash to be returned to various cities in the United States by midday Wednesday.
Investigators were trying to determine if engine problems or excess weight played a role in the crash, Bahamian police said. Witnesses said baggage handlers had argued with those boarding the Cessna 402B that there was too much baggage.
Bahamian and U.S. investigators removed the engines and cockpit instruments from the plane and took them to a secure building at the airport for inspection.
The rest of the wreckage was lifted out of the swampy ground Tuesday and investigators spread out the parts of the plane and tagged them, Bahamian officials said.
“They’re interviewing eyewitnesses. They’re getting all the luggage that was recovered and are taking it to be weighed as that’s an issue, as to whether the plane was overweighted,” Bachman said.
The singer, born Aaliyah Dana Haughton in Brooklyn, New York, moved to Detroit at age 5. She started singing at a local church and by age 11, was performing in Las Vegas with Gladys Knight. Knight’s ex-husband, Barry Hankerson, was Aaliyah’s uncle.
FANS HOLD VIGILS
Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, and saw her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” sell a million copies. She released her third album, “Aaliyah,” last month.
She also made her acting debut last year with a starring role in the Jet Li film “Romeo Must Die” and was booked to appear in the upcoming sequels to “The Matrix.” Aaliyah had recently finished shooting “Queen of the Damned,” playing the vampire queen Akasha in the movie based on the Anne Rice novel.
Fans gathered at vigils across the country to honor her and flocked to music stores to buy up Aaliyah CDs. At the Detroit school she attended, mourners left flowers, stuffed animals and messages of condolence.
Television entertainment stations MTV and BET scheduled broadcast tributes to Aaliyah Tuesday,
In Los Angeles Monday night, hundreds of Aaliyah devotees crowded into Leimert Park, a cultural hub of the city’s black community, to pay tribute in an outdoor memorial service.
The mourners, many of them weeping, held candles and waved pictures of the recording artist, while speakers offered prayers and eulogized Aaliyah and the others killed with her. Aaliyah’s music was played over loudspeakers.
In West Hollywood, fans gathered around a billboard emblazoned with a larger-than-life photo of Aaliyah to leave flowers and scrawl personal messages and poems expressing their grief.
One poem read: “Too beautiful, Too talented, Too young, Too soon. Potential lost, A sadder moon.”