Fire fighters work to extinguish the blaze at SMO Sunday night. (Photo courtesy Ron Casa)

SMO — Four bodies were found inside the burned wreckage of a private jet that crashed into a hangar at Santa Monica Airport after landing, a coroner’s official said Tuesday.

A crew removed the remains from the aircraft at SMO 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 Builders, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a senior project manager with the company, were believed to be on the flight, Vice President Charles Muttillo said. According to the company’s website, past projects include Southern California landmarks such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Getty Villa art museum and parts of the Hollywood Bowl. Locally the company built the Santa Monica Main Library and the Shore Hotel.

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. Also recovered were the remains of two cats and a dog.

The airport had been closed to plane traffic since Sunday evening, but reopened just after 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The investigation and release of information were affected 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.

NTSB staff left Tuesday morning and the charred wreckage of the plane was taken off site for potential future investigation, acting airport manager Stelios Makrides said. The NTSB could not be reached for comment because its public affairs office was closed.

On Monday, the safety board’s McKenny told reporters 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.

SantaMonica 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.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Santa Monica, used the opportunity Tuesday to call on the Federal Aviation Administration to improve safety at the airport saying that the agency has failed to address long-held concerns.

“The fatal crash should be a wake-up call,” Waxman said. “[The FAA] should thoroughly review the conditions at the airport, implement safeguards to protect the community, pilots, and passengers, and make the safety of Santa Monica Airport an urgent priority.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.