SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — A construction company CEO and his son were believed to be aboard a jet that slammed into a hangar and burst into flames after landing at a Southern California airport, in what fire officials described as an unsurvivable accident, an official with the firm said Monday.
Mark Benjamin and his son, Luke Benjamin, were apparently on the twin-engine Cessna Citation that crashed Sunday evening, Morley Construction Vice President Charles Muttillo told The Associated Press.
Luke Benjamin was a senior project manager at Santa Monica-based Morley Construction, Muttillo said.
Investigators awaited the arrival of a crane at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, but they did not expect to find any survivors on the flight from Idaho, officials said.
“This was an unsurvivable crash,” Santa Monica Fire Department Capt. John Nevandro said Sunday night at a media briefing.
Because the hangar collapsed in flames around it and a crane would be required before the plane could be reached, investigators had been unable to determine how many people were aboard the twin-engine Cessna Citation designed to hold eight passengers and two crew members, officials said.
It had taken off from Hailey, Idaho, and landed in Santa Monica when it went off the right side of the runway at about 6:20 p.m. on Sunday and struck the hangar, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.
The blaze destroyed the hangar and did minor damage to two other buildings.
“It was a total loss,” Fire Department spokeswoman Bridgett Lewis said.
News helicopters showed all but the tail of the plane trapped under a collapsed section of the small building.
Investigators could not immediately say whether anyone was inside the hangar at the time of the crash.
A plume of smoke rising above the airport could be seen in the twilight sky over the neighborhoods surrounding the airport in the hours after the crash.
After hearing a loud boom, several neighbors ran toward the airport and saw the fire.
“It was very, very terrifying, it was sad to see just so much smoke, and the building collapse and the loud boom, you just put it all together and it’s scary,” witness Alyssa Lang told KABC-TV.
Witness Charles Thomson told the TV station the plane appeared to make a “perfectly normal landing” before veering off course.
The jet, a Cessna 525A manufactured in 2003, was registered to a Malibu, Calif., address and its corporate owner, Creative Real Estate Exchange, is based in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, according to FAA public records. The plane had no record of accidents or incidents, the FAA said.
According to the website flightaware.com, the plane made 12 flights in September, mostly within Idaho and between Idaho and Southern California.
Phone messages left after hours at the real estate company’s two offices were not immediately returned.
The National Transportation Safety Board took over the investigation and a briefing was expected later Monday.
Santa Monica Airport, located in the coastal tourist destination known for its trendy bars, restaurants and wooden-pier carnival, is home to many private jets, many of them used by wealthy Southern Californians from the entertainment industry.
The airport in Hailey serves Idaho’s Sun Valley resort area, which is a frequent destination for many celebrities, and the rich and powerful alike.
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