Jenni Rivera. Add the Mexican-American superstar's name to a long list of beloved celebrities killed in the crash of a charter jet.
That list includes singer/actress Aaliyah, golfer Payne Stewart and musicians Ronnie Van Zant, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. In 2008, Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein were critically injured -- and four other passengers were killed -- when their charter jet crashed on takeoff in South Carolina.
Overall, the industry is overwhelmingly safe. Yet Sunday's crash in northern Mexico that killed Rivera and six others, including a pilot and co-pilot, has focused attention on charter safety.
One red flag, experts say, is the 43-year-old plane's age.
"The Learjet is a pretty reliable airplane, but this one was really old," says Ladd Sanger, an attorney and licensed pilot who specializes in plane crashes. "As a general rule, over 40 years old, and I think you need to be concerned."
However -- on its own -- age is not an indicator of an airplane's safety, says John McGraw. an ex-FAA deputy administrator.
"This plane was 10 minutes in flight, so you wouldn't expect that to be a factor in this type of accident," he said.
In general, experts say travelers can reduce their risk of choosing a charter that's poorly run -- or even illegal -- by asking a few smart questions.
Make sure the charter is well established and employs its own pilots, experts say. Leonard Goldberg is president and owner of Gold Aviation, a 17-year-old outfit based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, that flies six aircraft. "Our search process is very stringent," he says. "We see dozens of candidates at least before we settle on a pilot, which is pretty common, for good quality operators."
The FAA doesn't impose age limits for charter pilots, although pilots for airliners and other commercial carriers must retire at age 64. Charter pilots must pass flight medical exams, which increase in frequency with age.
In the United States, ask to see the charter operator's FAA Part 135 air carrier certificate. It's what legally defines an operator as a charter carrier. "It should be posted inside their building," Sanger says.
Be aware that if you use a broker instead of booking directly from a charter operator, you're putting your journey in the hands of a middleman. Critics call it "jet roulette" because you're essentially trusting the broker to hire a safe and legal charter plane.
Ask charter operators if their firm performs its own aircraft maintenance. Find out if training for the charter company's mechanics is approved by the aircraft manufacturers.
Many charters and brokers hire outside companies to oversee, rate and suggest improvements for their safety practices. Ask about safety audits.