LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just as he had so many times before, Mark Benjamin rode his small jet from a town in the Idaho wilderness he loved to the Southern California airport he knew so well.
The flight went well until, landing into the sunset, it veered off the runway and into a storage hangar.
On Tuesday, forensic specialists worked to identify the remains of four people pulled from the charred wreckage of Benjamin's Cessna 525A. Meanwhile, federal safety investigators curtailed their work due to the partial government shutdown.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office took the remains from the aircraft at Santa Monica Municipal Airport and tried to match dental X-rays with X-rays of people believed to be aboard, Lt. Fred Corral said. That process could be completed Wednesday.
Among the likely deceased were Benjamin, CEO of Morley Builders, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a senior project manager with the company. According to the company's website, past projects include Southern California landmarks such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Getty Villa art museum and parts of the Hollywood Bowl.
"We are heartbroken at the loss of Mark Benjamin and his son Lucas in a tragic accident," Charles Muttillo, the firm's vice president said in a written statement.
It was not immediately clear who the other two dead people were. Also recovered were the remains of two cats and a dog.
Several people who knew Mark Benjamin told The Associated Press he would typically pilot the plane between Santa Monica and Hailey, Idaho, though they did not know whether Benjamin was at the controls Sunday.
Mark Benjamin lived in Malibu but would frequently spend weekends in the outdoors that he loved around the Sun Valley area of Idaho, said longtime friend John French of Ketchum, Idaho.
French, also a pilot, said that Benjamin started flying the Cessna about six years ago.
"He flew a lot," French said. "He was not a casual pilot."
Benjamin was an avid nature photographer who would rise early to make pictures while others slept, French said. He also loved the stars, and built a home in Ketchum with a retractable roof so that a large telescope could take in the night sky. His other son, Matt, works at the University of Colorado planetarium.
An active philanthropist, Benjamin had a particular interest in nature conservation and youth programs. Executives with the Idaho Conservation League and the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu praised a man they said practiced generosity for its own sake — not the recognition some seek. After listening intently, he often would conclude a group discussion with a trenchant suggestion or observation, friends said.
During Sunday's flight, there was "no communication with the pilot indicting there's a problem with the aircraft at any time," Van McKenny, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Monday.
The investigation was affected by the federal government shutdown that began late Monday on the West Coast.
Investigators gathered all evidence that could not be preserved from the active accident scene and then left Tuesday morning. The plane was taken off site for potential future investigation, acting airport manager Stelios Makrides said. Soon after, the airport reopened to plane traffic Tuesday afternoon.
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- Mark Benjamin