Construction exec and his son killed in small plane crash

Firefighters work to extinguish fire at the site of a plane crash in Santa Monica, Calif., Sept. 29, 2013. AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

SANTA MONICA, Calif. No problems were reported before a private jet crashed into a hangar and burst into flames while landing at a Southern California airport, a federal investigator said Monday.

The pilot of the Cessna 525A did not report any mechanical trouble with the aircraft during its Sunday flight from Idaho to Santa Monica, Van McKenny, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference.

Mark Benjamin, CEO of Morley Construction, and his son, Luke Benjamin, were believed to be aboard the aircraft, Vice President Charles Muttillo told The Associated Press. Luke Benjamin was a senior project manager at the Santa Monica-based company.

It was not known if anyone else was aboard. The plane was designed to hold eight passengers and two crew members.

It appeared nobody on the ground was hurt but the aircraft and hangar had yet to be examined because the structure collapsed, preventing an initial survey.

Investigators were calling in two cranes to lift the wrecked building off the plane before they tried to retrieve remains and the cockpit voice recorder, McKenny said.

The twin-engine jet took off from Hailey, Idaho, and landed at Santa Monica Municipal Airport at about 6:20 p.m. Sunday.

"There was no communication with the pilot indicting there's a problem with the aircraft at any time during the flight," McKenny said.

After touching down, "he veered off the right side of the runway and then as he continued down, the turn got sharper and sharper," McKenny said.

The plane crashed into a row of five connected hangars about 400 feet from the end of the 5,000-foot runway, where it caught fire.

The hangar collapsed, its steel trusses crossing over the plane and the sheet metal wrapping around it, McKenny said.

Two other hangars received minor damage.

Fire crews responded quickly because their station was almost directly behind the accident site. Still, "this was an unsurvivable crash," Santa Monica Fire Department Capt. John Nevandro said Sunday night.

After hearing a loud boom, several neighbors ran toward the airport and saw the flames and smoke.

Witness Charles Thomson told KABC-TV that the plane appeared to make a "perfectly normal landing" before veering off course.

Santa Monica Airport's single runway sits amid residential neighborhoods of this city of more than 90,000 on the Pacific Ocean. The city and nearby residents have expressed concerns that certain types of jets with fast landing speeds could overshoot the runway and crash into homes.

The NTSB has issued reports on 40 prior accidents at the airport since the beginning of 1982, according to agency data. In those accidents, 16 people died and 20 were injured.

The jet was registered to a Malibu, Calif., address and its corporate owner, Creative Real Estate Exchange, is based in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, according to FAA public records. The plane had no record of accidents or incidents, the FAA said.

According to the website flightaware.com, the plane made 12 flights in September, mostly within Idaho and between Idaho and Southern California.

Comments