The body of 22-year-old R&B singer and budding movie star Aaliyah, who was killed instantly when her plane crashed in the Bahamas Saturday, has been flown back to New York for burial. The remains of her eight fellow passengers, all of whom perished in the accident, will also be taken to their respective hometowns over the next two days.
Funeral arrangements for Aaliyah are pending. Representatives for her family say the funeral will be private, and they have not disclosed where she will be interred.
Meanwhile, Bahamian and American investigators have convened at the crash site on Abaco Island to start sifting through the evidence and trying to determine the cause of the accident. Eyewitness accounts suggest the Cessna 402B lost its left engine just seconds after takeoff and exploded into flames upon impact. Investigators are looking into whether the passengers overloaded the twin-engine aircraft with their gear and luggage.
In addition to Aaliyah, the victims were Douglas Kratz, 28, director of video production for Aaliyah's record company, Virgin; Eric Foreman, 29, and Anthony Dodd, 34, hairstylists to the R&B star; Keith Wallace, 49, a manager at Virgin-distributed Blackground Entertainment; Gina Smith, 29, Aaliyah's product manager for Blackground; Scott Gallin, 41, the singer's bodyguard; Christopher Maldonado, 32; and the pilot, Luis Antonio Morales Blanes, 30.
The nine were en route to Florida after wrapping a video shoot for Aaliyah's "Rock the Boat." There has been no official word from Aaliyah's label on the status of the video.
The tragedy has touched off tributes in several cities where Aaliyah put down roots. (She was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Detroit and had returned to New York in recent years, living in Manhattan.) Hundreds gathered at her alma mater, Detroit's High School of Fine and Performing Arts, for a candlelight vigil Monday. In New York, a local artist painted a giant mural of Aaliyah--complete with angel wings--on a Lower East Side building. The work includes the names of the other victims. And in Los Angeles, a street-level billboard advertising her latest album, Aaliyah, has become a makeshift shrine, with fans writing messages and leaving flowers in the singer's memory.
Aaliyah's family, friends, costars and peers have been reacting to her passing. "I was so proud of her," Gladys Knight, Aaliyah's aunt by marriage who once toured with her pre-fame niece, tells E! News Daily. "She was sure of what she wanted to do. She never let go of her dream. I knew her star was rising and would go even further...I loved her and will always miss her."
Jet Li, who starred opposite Aaliyah in her feature debut, Romeo Must Die, says, "I heard of the devastating news and am deeply saddened that she is no longer with us. She was a wonderful and talented artist who will be missed by everyone whose lives she touched." DMX, another of her Romeo Must Die costars and host of a teary tribute to her on BET Monday night, called her "talented, classy, warm, beautiful, compassionate, humble."
Aaliyah's death will probably loom large over Tuesday's night Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. Soul Train mastermind Don Cornelius says he expects many artists to pay their respects to the singer during the show, which will be broadcast in syndication beginning Saturday.
R. Kelly, Aaliyah's onetime producer, musical mentor and--briefly--her husband (the union, which occurred when Aaliyah was just 15, was annulled because her parents refused consent), says in a statement he's "deeply saddened" by Aaliyah's death. Her boyfriend, record exec Damon Dash, says he's "crushed and heartbroken." "She meant the world to me," he said in a statement. "She was my best friend and will remain in my heart forever."