PASO ROBLES, Calif. — A note of impending doom--believed to have been penned by a gunman before he opened fire aboard Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771--was recovered from the wreckage Thursday, providing dramatic support for the FBI's conclusion that the crash resulted from a recently dismissed airline worker's vengeful attack.
FBI agents believe that the note, handwritten on an air sickness bag, was slipped in mid-flight by 35-year-old David A. Burke to Raymond Thomson, 48, a USAir official who recently had fired Burke from his job as a ticket agent at Los Angeles International Airport.
"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."
The note was unsigned, but authorities said they have no doubt it was written by Burke. It was one of several pieces of evidence to surface Thursday as investigators all but completed their reconstruction of what happened in the final minutes of Flight 1771. The FBI believes that Burke fired on Thomson with a .44-magnum pistol and then invaded the cockpit. In the ensuing struggle, the aircraft went into a dive and slammed into a coastal hillside near here. All 43 people on board the British-built jetliner died in the Monday crash.
Investigative sources with access to an in-flight cockpit tape said it contains the voice of a flight attendant informing the crew, "We have a problem here."
This, sources said, is followed by a male voice, saying, "I am the problem."
The exchange occurred after pilot Gregg N. Lindamood reported to air traffic controllers that there were gunshots in the passenger compartment. It is followed, according to sources familiar with the tape, by sounds of a tremendous scuffle, including "a groan and a gasp" from a man believed to be the pilot, as the doomed plane plunged nose-first from 22,000 feet.
"There's a lot of commotion," the source said, "thumping, crashing, and struggling--that kind of thing."
The source said "it is a matter of conjecture" whether shots in the cockpit can be heard on the tape.
Efforts were under way to enhance the clarity of the damaged recording. However, the FBI has determined that all six bullets had been fired from the gun, which was recovered from the wreckage Wednesday.
Also, it was learned that the FBI has discovered what may be a bullet hole in the pilot's seat.
Richard T. Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, told reporters at the crash site that ballistics checks confirmed that the pistol found in the debris was the same one that a friend and co-worker had loaned to Burke last month.
He also said a part of Burke's body had been located among the wreckage and had been identified through a fingerprint match-up.
"We have arrived at the point where we have the suspect we believe is responsible," Bretzing said. "Were he still alive we have more than sufficient evidence to charge him."
Documents released Thursday in Los Angeles federal court showed that an FBI search of Burke's Long Beach condominium Tuesday night yielded a last will and testament, made out by Burke just five days before the crash. The document supersedes another will drawn up in 1985, which was also seized by the FBI.
Robert Miller, the Long Beach attorney who drafted the new will, said Burke seemed "normal in all respects" and there was nothing extraordinary about the alterations. He declined to give details.
Agents also seized insurance documents, including a form to designate beneficiaries that was dated Nov. 30--eight days before the crash and a little more than a week after Burke had been fired from USAir, allegedly for stealing $69 in receipts from in-flight cocktail sales.
A sworn affidavit filed by the FBI in support of a search warrant for the Burke residence also resolved a 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, an unidentified PSA official had informed an FBI investigator that "Burke had been allowed to bypass security screening as a familiar airline employee and therefore was not screened for weapons or destructive devices."
The airline declined comment on the affidavit's assertion. PSA was purchased by USAir last May and they operate from the same terminal at LAX.
The same document also quoted verbatim from the telephone message Burke left on the answering machine of his estranged girlfriend, Jacqueline Camacho, hours before the crash: "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."
Friend Loaned Gun
According to the agent's affidavit, Burke was given a pistol about a month ago by a friend and fellow USAir employee in Foster City, a San Francisco suburb. The weapon was identified as a Smith and Wesson .44-magnum with an eight-inch-long barrel.