No trouble reported before S. Calif. jet crash

Associated Press
Santa Monica Airport crash
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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) — The pilot reported no mechanical trouble with a private jet from Idaho before it crashed in a hangar and burst into flames while landing at a Southern California airport, federal investigators said.

"There was no communication with the pilot indicting there's a problem with the aircraft at any time during the flight," Van McKenny, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Monday, a day after the twin-engine Cessna 525A crashed at Santa Monica Airport after taking off from Hailey, Idaho.

Mark Benjamin, CEO of Santa Monica-based Morley Construction, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a senior project manager with the company, were believed to be aboard the aircraft, Vice President Charles Muttillo told The Associated Press.

It was not known if anyone else was aboard the plane designed to hold eight passengers and two crew members.

The hangar had yet to be examined because the structure collapsed, but it appeared nobody on the ground was hurt.

Two cranes ordered by investigators arrived Monday to lift the wrecked building off the plane before they tried to retrieve remains and the cockpit voice recorder, McKenny said.

But the investigation and release of information were very likely to be slowed by the federal government shutdown that began late Monday for the West Coast.

Investigators were to gather all evidence that could not be preserved from the active accident scene then stop their work, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said shortly before the shutdown went into effect.

There would be no news conferences or other public communications, Nantel said, as the federal agency focuses solely on identifying major safety issues.

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 Benjamin typically piloted a plane between the two states but did not know if he was at the controls Sunday.

McKenny said that after touching down, the pilot "veered off the right side of the runway and then as he continued down, the turn got sharper and sharper."

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.

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.

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