Coroner: 4 bodies inside jet that crashed near LA
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four bodies were found inside the burned wreckage of a private jet that crashed into a hangar after landing, a coroner’s official said Tuesday.
A crew removed the remains from the aircraft at Santa Monica Airport and investigators will seek to match new dental X-rays with X-rays of people believed to be aboard, said Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
The twin-engine Cessna 525A crashed shortly before sunset Sunday as it arrived from Hailey, Idaho.
Mark Benjamin, CEO of Santa Monica-based Morley Construction, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a senior project manager with the company, were believed to be on the flight, Vice President Charles Muttillo said. Several people who knew Mark Benjamin told The Associated Press he would typically pilot the plane between Southern California and Idaho, where he owned homes, though they did not know whether Benjamin was at the controls Sunday.
Mark Benjamin had a home in Ketchum, Idaho, where he would frequently spend weekends in the outdoors that he loved, longtime friend John French said.
French, also a pilot, said that Benjamin started flying the Cessna about six years ago.
“He flew a lot,” French said. “He was not a casual pilot.”
Benjamin was an active philanthropist, with a particular focus on nature conservation and youth programs.
During Sunday’s flight, there was “no communication with the pilot indicting there’s a problem with the aircraft at any time,” Van McKenny, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Monday.
Cranes had to be brought in to lift the wrecked building off the plane before efforts could begin to retrieve remains and the cockpit voice recorder.
The investigation and release of information could be slowed by the federal government shutdown that began late Monday for the West Coast.
Investigators were to gather all evidence that could not be preserved from the active accident scene and then stop their work, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said shortly before the shutdown went into effect.
The safety board’s McKenny said that after touching down, the pilot “veered off the right side of the runway and then as he continued down, the turn got sharper and sharper.”
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.
One hangar collapsed, its steel trusses crossing over the plane and the sheet metal shell 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.
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 fears that certain types of jets with fast landing speeds could overshoot the runway and crash into homes.
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