SMO — On Sept. 29 of last year just after 6 p.m., Mark Benjamin brought his Cessna 525A down for a landing at the Santa Monica Airport.

Benjamin and his three passengers, including his son Lucas, Lauren Winkler — Lucas Benjamin’s girlfriend — and Kyla Dupont had left a small airport in Hailey, Idaho about four hours earlier. The group had attended a Conservation League board meeting in the Gem State.

The weather was clear during the flight, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Benjamin, an experienced pilot and lover of aviation, did not express any problems to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) control tower prior to or during the landing.

The approach and landing looked normal, according to witnesses. But the Cessna veered right, eventually leaving the runway. After hitting a sign, the plane continued to hang right.

Its right wing collided with the structure post of a hangar. The Cessna came to a stop inside the hangar. The roof of the hangar collapsed onto the Cessna and a fire started immediately.

The Santa Monica firefighters were on scene 2 minutes and 5 seconds after they were called, according to a report from the fire department.
“Response personnel made a remarkable fire stop, but were unable to save the four passengers,” the report said.

Initial speculation was that Benjamin blew out a tire, causing him to veer sharply. A month after the crash, the NTSB, which is tasked with investigating the crash, said that the tires were inflated and exhibited no unusual wear patterns. There were no airplane debris found on the runway, according to the NTSB.

A year later, the cause of the crash remains a mystery.

Benjamin, who worked as the CEO of Morley Builders, and the other three passengers were mourned in the community.

The family of Kyla Dupont sued the estate of Mark Benjamin last year. The family’s attorney did not respond with an update on the case by press time.

City Hall is doing the same. City attorneys say that the crash — between the damage it did to the hangar and the hours city workers spent cleaning the mess up — put City Hall out about $54,000. The lawsuit was filed on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Gary and Carole Winkler, the parents of Lauren Winkler, are suing the Benjamin estate along with Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. They are also suing the Cessna Aircraft Company. They seek unspecified damages against all parties.

The crash occurred just before the 2013 shutdown of the federal government. NTSB officials took all the necessary information from the crash site and then closed up shop along with a number of other government agencies. In late October, NTSB released the preliminary finding — the one that showed that there was no damage to the Cessna’s tires.

Since then, NTSB has been silent on the incident. Crash evidence was taken to an NTSB facility in Arizona. There is no timetable as to when the board might make a final report on the incident. There are Santa Monica incidents that occurred before the Sept. 29 crash for which the NTSB has not yet released final reports. One dates back to August of 2012. Calls to NTSB officials were not returned by press time.

dave@smdp.com

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