Santa Monica crash: No fatalities on ground, NTSB says (updated)

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Southern California construction company Morley Builders issued a statement on its website saying that it was believed the company's president and his son were aboard a plane when it crashed Sunday at Santa Monica Airport. The two-engine Cessna veered off the runway after landing and crashed into a hangar, killing everyone aboard. It was still unclear how many people may have been aboard, though accident investigators said no on one the ground was killed.


Updated 1:54 p.m.: No fatalities on the ground, NTSB says

No one was killed on the ground when a private jet crashed at Santa Monica Airport Sunday, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

However, crash-scene investigators still do not know how many people were aboard a Cessna twin-engine jet that veered off the runway and crashed into a hangar after landing. NTSB investigator Van McKenney said it appeared that no one on board had survived. 

Investigators will not be able to confirm the number of people killed until they can access the fuselage of the plane, which was buried under the wreckage of the hangar. Cranes will be used to lift the roof off the structure, allowing investigators to get to the plane itself, an operation McKenney said could take the rest of the day.

The runway was to remain closed until the Federal Aviation Administration gave the go-ahead to reopen it. It was unclear when that might happen.

The cause of the crash was still unclear.

11:46 a.m.: More details emerge on identity of executive believed to have been killed

The pilot of the plane that crashed and burned upon landing in Santa Monica Sunday is believed to be the head of a local construction company, according to a statement on the company’s website.

Mark John Benjamin, 63, of Malibu, is president and CEO of Morley Builders, said Vice President Charles Muttillo in a statement on the company website. His son Luke Benjamin, a senior project engineer with the company, was believed to also have been aboard the plane,Muttillo said.

Authorities have not identified the victims of the crash.

Records show that Mark Benjamin is a pilot certified to fly multi-engine planes. Several aircraft have been registered to him, according to public records. Also, the website – which shows flight plans – reports that the Cessna Citation jet came into Santa Monica Airport at about 6:20 p.m. Sunday and was registered to CREX-MML LLC, a company headed by Mark Benjamin.

He also ran a charitable foundation that donated $25,000 last year to the Museum of Flying at the Santa Monica Airport, located a short distance from the crash site.

Records from the The Mark Benjamin Foundation show he also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to local youth groups, cultural organizations, and environmental groups, including Nature Bridge, the Idaho Conservation League and The Yellowstone Association.

The jet apparently veered off the runway upon landing and slammed into a hangar, which sparked an intense fire. Officials are still trying to determine the exact number of casualties. The plane had taken off from Hailey, Idaho.

Santa Monica resident Jim Stevens lives about a mile south of the tower. He said he heard the crash, but didn't think too much of it. On Monday morning, he was jogging with his two golden retrievers and stopped by the southwest side of the airport to see the damage in person.

He could see the caved in, burned out hangar, but there was no sign of the aircraft that slammed into the building.

"I ran my tractor into a metal shed one time and it sounded just the same,” Stevens said. “Then I went 'it doesn't sound like an aircraft. I would've made a big bang if it was a plane.'"

Morley Builders has worked on some of the most iconic buildings in Southern California, including the California Science Center, the Getty Villa and the Cathedral of our Lady inDowntown Los Angeles.

10:15 a.m.: SoCal businessman and son feared dead

Mark John Benjamin, 63, president of Southern California construction company Morley Builders, and his son Luke Benjamin were believed to have been killed in the crash of a small plane at Santa Monica Airport, according to a notice on the company website.

The company note, issued by vice president Charles Muttillo, says it does not have specific details from authorities yet, but that it was believed the father and son were on board the two-engine Cessna when it crashed Sunday.

It was still unclear late Monday morning how many other people may have been aboard the eight-seat plane.

— Sharon McNary

7:41 a.m.: Police officers early today guarded the site where a twin-engine Cessna Citation jet flying in from Idaho crashed into a hangar after landing at Santa Monica Airport and veering off the runway, causing the structure to collapse, sparking an explosive fire and killing all aboard.

"Officers are securing the scene," Santa Monica police Sgt. Douglas Kohno said early today, adding that National Transportation Safety Board investigators would decide when to have a crane operator begin to lift the collapsed hangar off the jet's wreckage.

"The NTSB has the lead on that. The time frame is up to them," Kohno said.

Capt. John Nevandro of the Santa Monica Fire Department said "it was an unsurvivable crash." But how many passengers and crew were aboard the eight-seat aircraft won't be determined until the rubble has been lifted off the aircraft.

The plane, which had taken off in Hailey, Idaho, slammed into the hangar around 6:20 p.m. Sunday, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said. Fire from that hangar spread to two adjacent hangars, but those fires were extinguished, said Bridgette Lewis of the Santa Monica Fire Department.

Flight-tracking data shows the same plane made four flights between Haley and Santa Monica since Sept. 15. 

FAA records show the owner of the plane to be a Malibu resident, according to news reports.

— KPCC wire services

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the name of the company to which the plane was registered. The text has been corrected.

With contributions from KPCC wire services and Hayley Fox

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