Santa Monica Lookout
Government Shutdown Delays Investigation into Cause of Santa Monica Plane Crash
By Jason Islas
October 2, 2013 -- Investigators announced Tuesday that they discovered four bodies in the wreckage of a private jet that crashed at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) Sunday evening, but that the federal government shutdown will delay further investigation.
While the Los Angeles County coroner's office said that it will use dental records to determine the identities of the two male and two female bodies found in the wreckage, the National Transportation Safety Board has put its investigation into the cause of the accident on hold after a budget impasse has left most federal agencies without the funds to function.
As of Tuesday, officials said that it is still unclear what caused the twin-engine Cessna Citation to veer off the runway and crash into a hangar where it burst into flames, killing everyone aboard around 6:20 p.m. Sunday.
Unofficial reports have identified two of the victims as Mark Benjamin, the 63-year-old CEO of Morley Builders and his 28-year-old son, Luke Benjamin. Authorities have not confirmed any of the victims' identities. (“Probable Santa Monica Plane Crash Victim Remembered as Generous Community Supporter,” October 1)
Santa Monica Airport resumed operations Tuesday afternoon after investigators cleared the remaining wreckage from the scene and placed it in storage until the investigation can continue, officials said.
Still, Sunday's crash has caused a stir among anti-airport advocates in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles who see the airport as a danger to nearby homes.
Congressman Henry Waxman issued a statement Tuesday calling for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take “immediate action to address safety conditions at Santa Monica Airport.”
Coupled with Waxman's statement was a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta.
“I have repeatedly called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address concerns in the community over safety conditions at the airport,” Waxman said. “But the FAA has inexcusably failed to act.”
Most recently, Waxman wrote, the FAA declined an invitation to participate in a forum with Santa Monica City officials and community members about the future of the airport. (“Congressman Wants FAA Forum on Santa Monica Airport's Future,” July 18)
As part of a 1984 settlement with the FAA over the use of jets at SMO, the City agreed to operate the land as an airport until at least 2015. With that agreement set to expire, the airport's future has become a hot topic.
“The fatal crash should be a wakeup call,” Waxman wrote to Huerta. “You should thoroughly review the conditions at the airport, implement safeguards to protect the community, pilots, and passengers, and make the safety of the Santa Monica Airport an urgent priority.”
Long-time Santa Monica City Councilmember Bob Holbrook said that, in his experience, the FAA has been unwilling to budge on the issue of the airport.
“Every time you try to take them on, you get hit in the jaw by the force of federal government,” Holbrook said.
But, Holbrook said, at SMO, safety is paramount.
“Santa Monica Airport is unlike any other airport in the country in that it has homes right up against it,” he said.
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