Santa Monica Lookout
“Tragic Accident” at Santa Monica Airport Under Investigation
By Lookout Staff
October 1, 2013 -- Twenty-four hours after an eight-passenger jet crashed into a hangar at Santa Monica Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation.
Officials have yet to confirm how many people were killed when the Cessna Citation collided with the storage hangar Sunday night, causing the plane and the building to explode in flames.
A collapsed roof has barred investigators from accessing the wreckage, officials reported, though they told media Monday morning that they hoped to be able to have access to the wreckage as early as Monday night.
At least two people are believed to have been killed in the accident.
Morley Builders President and CEO Mark Benjamin and his son, Luke, were aboard the plane, according to an official statement by the firm.
While the actual cause of the accident remains unclear, official reports say the twin-engine private crashed into a set of four hangars around 6:20 p.m. Sunday evening after arriving at SMO from Hailey, Idaho.
Officials have not been able to remove the victims from the crash, but authorities believe that all the passengers aboard were killed.
“We are aware of a plane crash at Santa Monica Airport last night. While we do not have specific facts, we believe that our President and CEO, Mark Benjamin, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a Senior Project Engineer with us were on board,” read an official statement from Morley Builders.
“We are unable to issue a further statement at this time. We will provide you with more updates as soon as we learn of them,” the statement said.
Morley Builders is one of Southern California's largest construction firms and Benjamin has been an active member of the Santa Monica community.
Firefighters were able to put out the fire caused by the crash Sunday night within an hour, officials said. According to official reports, jet fuel caused the fire, which spread to two nearby hangars, to burn at incredibly high temperatures.
“We praise the Santa Monica Fire Department’s quick response to the scene,” City officials said in a statement issued Monday. “The Fire Department arrived within three minutes of the initial call from the Airport."
In the statement, City officials said that the plane landed from the “east and veered right as it approached the western half of the runway,” crashing into a set of hangars “in the airport's northwest corner and erupted into flames.” The hanger collapsed on the plane.
“Because of the collapsed structure and the inability to gain access, the victims cannot yet be removed from the aircraft,” said officials. “A plan is being developed to stabilize the structure so that the victims can be removed.”
The City's official statement makes reference to the controversial airport's uncertain future since City Hall's 1984 agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to expire.
That agreement was a result of the City's attempt to ban certain types of jets at the nearly century-old airfield.
The agreement requires the City to operate the space as an airport until at least 2015.
“The City is in the process of evaluating potential options for the Airport’s future after the expiration of the 1984 Settlement Agreement with the FAA in mid-2015,” the statement reads.
“The City Council has directed staff to return to Council in March of 2014. Options likely to be discussed then range from operational restrictions or reductions to partial or full closure,” it said.
Sunday's accident has led some community leaders to call for the closure of the airport.
"It is time to shut this airport down," said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents L.A.'s westside neighborhoods.
Bonin's predecessor, Bill Rosendahl, held a similar position. Both claim that the airport not only poses a danger from crashes but also contributes to air pollution.
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