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Santa Monica Airport crash: Number of victims not yet known

Law EnforcementAir Transportation DisastersDisasters and AccidentsFiresTransportation DisastersNational Transportation Safety BoardTransportation Industry

Coroner's officials have yet to sift through the charred wreckage of the crash of a small plane at Santa Monica Airport this weekend as they await special equipment to clear the heavily damaged site.

Fire officials said the crash -- which occurred about 6:20 p.m. Sunday when a twin-engine Cessna Citation coming from Hailey, Idaho, veered off the right side of the runway and slammed into a nearby storage hangar -- was unsurvivable.

Both the hangar and the jet burst into flames, officials said, and the hangar collapsed.

PHOTOS: Santa Monica plane crash

The jet holds up to eight people, according to Cessna and registration information, but authorities have not said how many people were on the plane.

Early Monday morning, David Goddard, chairman of the Santa Monica Airport Commission, estimated that the crash site was about 150 feet from residences. Had the plane not hit the hangar, it could have gone up an embankment and gotten over a wall before slamming into homes, he said.

“We’ve been attempting to get the City Council to reduce operations at the airport,” Goddard told the Los Angeles Times. The assumed fatalities "were tragic, but I was certainly grateful that it happened on the tarmac ... versus off the end of the runway.”  

Goddard said that at around 7 p.m. he was driving to his home in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica when he looked down Airport Avenue and it appeared as though “the fog had rolled in.”

“As we drove down," he said, "we could smell the burning fuel.”

Dozens of people were looking through a fence in the airport parking lot when he got there. Staring at the wreckage from about 300 feet away, he saw a piece of the plane’s fuselage lodged underneath the collapsed doors of a structure, whose steel was dented.

“Apparently, the fireball was pretty big because there was brush on the north side of the building that was far away that had burned,” Goddard said.  

Late Sunday night, authorities said that the fires were extinguished after damaging three buildings. Neighborhood advocates had been concerned that the fire could spread to homes nearby.

The hangar fire burned at a relatively high temperature because jet fuel was involved, fire officials said. The flames then spread to two hangars nearby and caused minor damage.

The intensity of the fire and the collapsed hangar made it hard to access the wreckage of the plane or read its tail number, making it difficult to identify those on board, sources told The Times.

Multiple media outlets, citing authorities at the scene, reported early Monday that a crane would be necessary to lift the hangar off the plane in the morning.

Local authorities turned the investigation over to National Transportation Safety Board officials who arrived in Santa Monica on Sunday.

The Santa Monica Fire Department dispatched six fire engines and four ambulances, but none took victims to hospitals, spokeswoman Bridgett Lewis said.

The Cessna business jet is registered to Creative Real Estate Exchange LLC, according to the firm's website. The owner of the plane lives in Malibu but is not named in FAA records.

The plane had made eight flights since Sept. 15, according to flight tracking websites, including four between Hailey and Santa Monica.

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Twitter:@MattStevensLAT

matt.stevens@latimes.com

laura.nelson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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