The lead federal investigator into Sunday’s fiery crash of a small jet at Santa Monica Airport said Monday that they expect to reach the charred fuselage and the unknown number of bodies inside once the site is secured tonight.
Van McKenny, an investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters Monday that crews “absolutely plan” on being able to access the fuselage as crews work into the night on shoring up the partially collapsed hangar that the twin-engine Cessna Citation crashed into about 6:20 p.m. Sunday, creating a fireball crash site that authorities said was not survivable.
The chief executive of one of the largest construction companies in Southern California, Mark Benjamin, 63, and his son, Luke, 28, were believed to be on board the small jet, the company said on its website Monday. Coroner’s officials had yet to retrieve bodies from the charred wreckage of the crash Monday until the site was deemed safe to enter.
The elder Benjamin was the chief executive at Morley Construction, the company said. It issued a statement on its website:
“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.”
Morley Construction is one of the largest construction companies in Southern California and has more than 200 employees with an annual work volume of more than $300 million, according to the company’s site. It specializes in reinforced concrete and steel.
The NTSB’s McKenny reiterated earlier assessments from fire officials that the Cessna had veered off the right side of the runway before slamming into the storage hangar.
Both the hangar and the jet burst into flames and the hangar collapsed, officials said. 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 jet — which was coming from Hailey, Idaho — holds up to eight people, according to Cessna and registration information.
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.
Late Sunday night, authorities said the fires were extinguished after damaging three buildings. Neighborhood residents had been concerned that the fire could spread to nearby homes.