Santa Monica crash: Airport reopens but investigation said to be stalled due to government shutdown (updated)

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Santa Monica Airport has reopened for business following a private jet crash that killed at least four people on Sunday. Gregory Wain, general manager of Atlantic fixed base operations at Santa Monica Airport, confirmed to KPCC that the airport opened at 1 p.m. However, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board earlier said that the investigation into the cause of the accident would be stalled due to the federal government shutdown.


Update 1:41 p.m.: Airport reopens

Gregory Wain, general manager of Atlantic fixed base operations at Santa Monica Airport, confirmed to KPCC that the airport reopened at 1 p.m.

Wain could not say whether the National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash of a private jet on Sunday was continuing or had been stopped due to the government shutdown. However, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel earlier told the Associated Press that investigators would be gathering all evidence that could not be preserved from the scene of the accident and then stop working.

— Brian Frank

Update 1:03 p.m. Santa Monica Airport plans to reopen early Tuesday afternoon

Airport manager Stelios Makrides said he expects Santa Monica Airport will reopen early Tuesday afternoon, after the taxiway has been cleared and after inspection. The airport was closed following a private jet crash where four bodies were recovered.

"We'll do several checks to make sure there is no debris on the runway, taxiway and in areas that the aircraft will maneuver," Makrides said. "[Crews] will ensure that the airport is safe for aircraft operations." 

Makrides said officials would soon remove the lighted exits that show the airport is closed. 

Salvage crews are still removing the wreckage from the gutted hangar, but that won't affect flight operations, officials say.

Corey Moore

Previously: A Los Angeles County Coroner's official says four bodies have been found inside the wreckage of a private jet that crashed into a hangar and burst into flames while landing at Santa Monica Airport.

Investigator Betsy Magdaleno says a crew is working early Tuesday to extract the bodies from the charred remains of the twin-engine Cessna 525A.

She says it's too soon to tell if they are male or female.

The plane crashed Sunday night after arriving 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 said in a statement on the company's website.

The company's full statement:

We are heartbroken at the loss of Mark Benjamin and his son Lucas in a tragic accident.  Mark has been our President and CEO since 1981 and Luke was a Senior Project Engineer.  We are proud to be associated with the Company that Mark¹s family founded.  He had a profound influence on each of our employees, the Southern California landscape, our local community, and the construction industry.   We are committed to building on his legacy.

The pilot reported no mechanical trouble before it crashed, federal investigators said.

"There was no communication with the pilot indicating 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.

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.

— Associated Press with KPCC

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