Santa Monica Airport remains closed as crash probe continues

Santa Monica Airport remained closed to flights Tuesday morning as Los Angeles County coroner’s officials worked at the site of a deadly jet crash.

The airport has been closed since Sunday evening, when a twin-engine Cessna Citation touched down and then veered hard right off the runway, careening into a hangar and killing all on board.

PHOTOS: Santa Monica Airport crash

The fiery crash is believed to be the first fatal accident involving a jet in the airport’s history. The impact and fire collapsed the hangar’s steel roof onto part of the aircraft as well as onto planes stored inside.

Morley Builders of Santa Monica announced Monday that its chief executive, Mark Benjamin, 63, and his son Luke, 28, are believed to have been killed in the crash. It remains unclear whether others were in the plane, which was flying from Idaho.


National Transportation Safety Board officials said they expected to gain access to the plane’s fuselage and voice recorder by Tuesday morning.

Residents near the airport and community activists say the crash of the jet stokes some of their worst fears because the plane came to rest about 150 feet from homes near the northwest section of the airfield.

“It’s a warning of what could really happen,” John Fairweather, founder of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic, said Monday. “Obviously we are saddened by those who lost their lives in that plane. Our concern is what would have happened if it hit houses and the fire spread beyond the hangar.”

Since 1989, there have been at least 11 crashes involving planes coming and going from Santa Monica Airport, according to federal records. Six crashes were confined to the airport grounds, and two planes struck homes, two came down in the ocean and one crashed on a golf course.

The airport had about 7,300 takeoffs and landings in August, the most recent month for which data were available.

Some community activists are pushing to turn the 227-acre airfield into a park. They claim that the federal requirements and leases to operate a large portion of the property as an airport, including a section of the runway, end in 2015.

“We hope it’s a wake-up call,” David Goddard, chairman of the Santa Monica Airport Commission, said of Sunday’s crash. “Now we hope the City Council will take the next step” and reduce flights.

But the Federal Aviation Administration asserts that the Santa facility Monica must operate the airport in perpetuity under a 1948 transfer agreement reached when it was returned to the city after World War II.

Agency officials have vowed to protect the interests of pilots and aviation-related businesses at the airport.


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