PASO ROBLES — A chilling note of impending doom--believed to have been written by a disgruntled airline worker moments before he opened fire inside Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771--was discovered today amid the aircraft wreckage.
Investigators assume that the note, written by hand on an air sickness bag, was slipped midflight by David A. Burke to Raymond F. Thomson, the USAir official who recently had fired Burke from his job as a ticket agent in Los Angeles. Both men were aboard the flight.
"Hi Ray," the message began, "I think it's sort of ironical that we end up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family. Remember?
"Well, I got none and you'll get none."
Investigators believe that Burke opened fire on Thomson with a .44 Magnum pistol he had smuggled on board, and that he then burst into the cockpit and, probably by shooting the crew, caused the aircraft to plunge into coastal mountains near Paso Robles. All 43 persons on board the four-engine jetliner died.
CBS News, quoting unnamed sources, reported today that cockpit recording tapes contain the voice of a flight attendant telling the crew, "We've got a problem here."
Another voice then responded, "I'm the problem."
Sources said it is not yet clear from the tape whether shots were fired inside the cockpit, although the recording does reveal the sound of a commotion on the flight deck before the aircraft screamed toward the ground.
Richard T. Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, confirmed for the first time today to reporters here that Burke is the suspect in crimes that brought down the jetliner. PSA contacted the FBI about Burke's possible culpability two hours after the crash Monday evening.
Bretzing said ballistics checks have confirmed that the pistol found Wednesday at the crash site was one that had been loaned to Burke last month by a friend in Northern California.
He also said a small part of Burke's body had been located among the wreckage, and that it had been identified through a fingerprint match-up.
Further, Bretzing said that, in addition to cockpit tapes and the gun, other evidence has confirmed "that shots were fired" aboard the craft before it descended in a nose dive from 22,000 feet. He declined to elaborate.
Court documents released today showed that an FBI search of Burke's Long Beach condominium had yielded a last will and testament, made out by the suspect just five days before the crash.
Agents also seized insurance documents, including a form to designate beneficiaries of his policy that was dated Nov. 30--eight days before the crash and a little more than a week after he had been fired from USAir, allegedly for stealing in-flight cocktail receipts.
An affidavit filed by the FBI in support of a search warrant for the Burke residence also appeared to resolve one lingering riddle in the case--how the recently dismissed USAir employee managed to skirt an airport security check before he boarded Flight 1771.
According to the document, a PSA official had informed an FBI investigator "that David Burke had been allowed to bypass security screening as a familiar airline employee and therefore was not screened for weapons or destructive devices."
The same document also quoted verbatim from the telephone message Burke had left on the answering machine of his girlfriend, Jacqueline Camacho: "Jackie, this is David. I'm on my way to San Francisco Flight 1771. I love you. I really wish I could say more but I do love you."