No survivors in SM airport crash
Two adult male and two adult female bodies were found Tuesday morning among the wreckage of the plane crash that occurred at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport Sunday evening. They will likely not be identified for 48 to 72 hours or more, said Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office spokesperson Craig Harvey.
“With respect to the aircraft itself, we’re pretty confident that there were only four passengers onboard,” Harvey said.
The twin-engine jet, a Cessna Citation, crashed at approximately 6:22 p.m. Sunday. The privately owned aircraft was flying from Hailey, Idaho, and landed at SMO before veering off the runway to the right, plowing into airport hangars and catching fire, authorities told reporters Sunday night.
The cause of the accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“There was no communication with the pilot indicating that there was a problem with the aircraft at any time during the flight,” NTSB investigator Van McKenney said at a media briefing Monday afternoon.
Longtime Santa Monica resident Vicki Miceli was driving from work to her home on Marine Street – which overlooks the airport from the west end – when the plane crashed.
By the time Miceli reached her house, the smoke was visible in the air, and continued to rise for nearly an hour, she said. Miceli saw firemen trying to work a door of a hangar where the plane came to rest, but it was “engulfed in flames.”
“The hangar collapsed on top of the plane,” she said. “It was so intense, firefighters couldn’t go inside.”
Officials from the Santa Monica Fire Department and Santa Monica Police Department responded to the scene immediately.
Investigators were not able to reach the wreckage until Monday afternoon because it was wrapped in sheet metal from the collapsed hangar. Two cranes were brought in late Monday afternoon to access the fuselage, which was an all-day effort, McKenney said.
Although the coroner’s office has not yet identified the victims, it is presumed that the CEO of Southern California construction company Morley Builders and his son were onboard the plane.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of Mark Benjamin and his son Lucas in a tragic accident,” vice-president Charles Muttillo said in a statement issued on the company’s website Tuesday. “Mark has been our president and CEO since 1981, and Luke was a senior project engineer.”
Several vehicles and airplanes on the ground were also damaged during the crash, but there were no ground fatalities, according to the NTSB.
The incident prompted airport closure until Tuesday afternoon, according to the Airport Services Unit of the SMPD.
The airport, located at 2828 Donald Douglas Drive Loop, is adjacent to Santa Monica College’s Airport Arts and Bundy campuses, as well as many businesses and residences.
“[The planes are] getting closer and closer; I worry,” Miceli said.
Sam Herron contributed to this report.