PASO ROBLES — A pistol was found amid the wreckage of a Pacific Southwest Airlines jetliner here today, and a review of cockpit tapes in the last minutes of the doomed flight revealed that an intruder entered the cockpit before the airplane plunged into coastal mountains, killing all 43 persons aboard.
FBI agents said the developments supported their suspicion that gunshots fired within the aircraft played a role in the crash of Flight 1771 midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"The aircraft did in fact become the site of a criminal act," Richard Bretzing, FBI agent in charge of the Los Angeles office, told reporters here at a press conference today.
Bretzing said ballistic checks have not been performed on the weapon, which he described only as a handgun.
He said the cockpit tapes indicate an "unauthorized entry" before the crash but he would not elaborate.
"We do not know at this point who made that unauthorized entry," he said.
He refused to comment when asked whether the tapes include the sound of gunshots in the cockpit.
Further, an official with the National Transportation Safety Board said a preliminary review of the wreckage indicated that there were no problems with "the airframe or airworthiness" of the aircraft before the crash.
Dark Side Emerges
Meanwhile, a dark side of David A. Burke, a recently-dismissed airline employee who is believed to have boarded the flight with a handgun, emerged today.
Burke, born in England to Jamaican parents, was a violence-prone lover who tried to strangle one woman and shot up a garage during a fight with another, a one-time drug dealer who used the airlines to move his cocaine and the father of as many as 11 illegitimate children, friends and court documents said.
Neighbors who lived near Burke at a condominium complex in Long Beach for the last six months and relatives in Rochester, N.Y., described Burke as a helpful, friendly man who was anxious to get ahead and active in the civil rights movement.
But longtime friends of Burke in New York and his California girlfriend said he was violent, mercenary and partial to shiny cars, fancy clothes and good times.
In 1984 and 1985, Burke was investigated as a "major link" in a narcotics trafficking operation at the Greater Rochester International Airport, where he worked from 1972 to 1986, a law enforcement officer involved in the inquiry said.
The investigation ended with more than 50 arrests and several convictions, but Burke was never charged.
A man who called himself a longtime friend told the Rochester Times-Union that Burke was deeply involved with drugs but got out of the business because of intimidation during the investigations.
'No Petty Dealer'
"I know for a fact that, at one time, he was supporting other people's (drug) habits. . . . He was no petty dealer. He was dealing in quantity. He was using his airport connections to move the stuff," the friend said.
He didn't use drugs himself, the friend said, primarily because his younger brother, Joseph, died of an accidental overdose in 1980. "He said, 'Dope is for dopes, and I make money off them,' " the friend told the newspaper.
In California, Burke's girlfriend, Jacqueline Camacho of Hawthorne, obtained a temporary restraining order in October after he allegedly tried to strangle her, disabled her car and sliced up some of her clothing, court documents showed.
In New York, Burke was investigated by the FBI after a series of Mercedes-Benz thefts but again was never charged, said Dale Anderson, a special agent in charge of the FBI's Rochester office,
Long Beach neighbor Roger Krause said Burke was an ideal neighbor who had few visitors. He said he heard Burke raise his voice only once--to yell at his daughter.