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Published: Saturday, 5/21/2005

Air cargo CEO dies on trip to Houston

For the second time in six months, Grand Aire Inc. has lost a top executive to tragedy.

Chief Executive Art Atar, 47, of Auburn Hills, Mich., died Thursday, Grand Aire officials confirmed.

Officials at Grand Aire declined to comment further on the circumstances of his death, saying they would release a statement later.

Airport officials said it was their understanding Mr. Atar was on a business trip at the time of his death.

Mr. Atar led the Swanton air-cargo charter company since December, after his predecessor, CEO Tahir Cheema, was killed in a plane crash in November.

A man identified by his Michigan driver s license as Itrat Art Arthar, 47, was found unresponsive by a co-worker in a Sheraton hotel room in Houston Thursday, according to Beverly Begay, chief forensic investigator for the Harris County medical examiner s office.

A telephone call was made from the hotel to the Houston Fire Department, which transported Mr. Arthar to the Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital emergency room in Houston. He was pronounced dead at 9:46 a.m.

An autopsy had been scheduled for yesterday, but no cause of death had been determined, Ms. Begay said.

Grand Aire officials could not be reached to confirm whether Mr. Atar and Mr. Arthar were one and the same.

Mr. Atar s death is not the first to plague Grand Aire.

In November of last year, Mr. Cheema was the pilot of a twin-engine plane that crashed on an island in the Missouri River.

The year before that, two of the firm s planes crashed on the same day.

At the time of Mr. Cheema s death, colleagues vowed to rebuild.

Inspired by the passion and the spark exhibited by Tahir [Cheema], we will keep Grand Aire a viable business in Toledo, read a company statement.

Mr. Atar, then Grand Aire s chief operating officer, took over.

Now, after Mr. Atar s death, airport officials declined to speculate on what the future holds for Grand Aire s operation.

James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said, Up until now, no, I hadn t been [worried]. Right now, I m just concerned about the Grand Aire family over there, because that s what that company is like, a big family.



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