Workers prepare to use cranes to extract a twin-engine Cessna Citation 525A aircraft from inside a collapsed hangar which it slammed into, bursting into flames, after it touched down last night, in Santa Monica, California, September 30, 2013. At least three people, including a wealthy California construction executive, were believed killed in the fiery crash-landing of the small jet at Santa Monica airport after a flight from Idaho's Sun Valley resort area, officials said on Monday. (REUTERS/David McNew)
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — No problems were reported before a private jet crashed into a hangar and burst into flames while landing at a Southern California airport, a federal investigator said Monday.
The pilot of the Cessna 525A did not report any mechanical trouble with the aircraft during its Sunday flight from Idaho to Santa Monica, Van McKenny, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference.
Mark Benjamin, CEO of Morley Construction, and his son, Luke Benjamin, were believed to be aboard the aircraft, Vice President Charles Muttillo told The Associated Press. Luke Benjamin was a senior project manager at the Santa Monica-based company.
It was not known if anyone else was aboard. The plane was designed to hold eight passengers and two crew members.
While the hangar had yet to be examined because the structure collapsed, it appeared nobody on the ground was hurt.
Investigators called in two cranes to lift the wrecked building off the plane before they tried to retrieve remains and the cockpit voice recorder, McKenny said.
The twin-engine jet took off from Hailey, Idaho, and landed at Santa Monica Municipal Airport at about 6:20 p.m. Sunday.
"There was no communication with the pilot indicting there's a problem with the aircraft at any time during the flight," McKenny said.
After touching down, "he veered off the right side of the runway and then as he continued down, the turn got sharper and sharper," McKenny said.
The plane crashed into a row of five connected hangars about 400 feet from the end of the 5,000-foot runway, where it caught fire.
One hangar collapsed, its steel trusses crossing over the plane and the sheet metal shell wrapping around it, McKenny said. Two other hangars received minor damage.
Fire crews responded quickly because their station was almost directly behind the accident site. Still, "this was an unsurvivable crash," Santa Monica Fire Department Capt. John Nevandro said Sunday night.
After hearing a loud boom, several neighbors ran toward the airport and saw the flames and smoke.
Witness Charles Thomson told KABC-TV that the plane appeared to make a "perfectly normal landing" before veering off course.
Santa Monica Airport's single runway sits amid residential neighborhoods of this city of more than 90,000 on the Pacific Ocean. The city and nearby residents have expressed concerns that certain types of jets with fast landing speeds could overshoot the runway and crash into homes.
The NTSB has issued reports on 40 prior accidents at the airport since the beginning of 1982, according to agency data. In those accidents, 16 people died and 20 were injured.
The jet 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.
Mark Benjamin spent time in the Sun Valley area of Idaho since his youth and served on the board of directors of the Idaho Conservation League, according to the executive director of the organization, Rick Johnson. He described Benjamin as "an extraordinary, thoughtful businessperson who brought a lot of passion and energy to our organization."
Johnson said that Benjamin typically piloted a plane between the two states, though he did not know who was the pilot on Sunday's flight.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber, Andrew Dalton and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.
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