A badge identifying a fired USAir employee suspected of causing the crash of a Pacific Southwest Airlines jetliner was found amid the wreckage of the plane, appearing to contradict airline statements that he had returned his credentials, it was reported Tuesday.
The San Diego Union, quoting an anonymous source, said the USAir identification badge of David Burke, 35, the fired employee suspected of firing gunshots that led to the crash of PSA Flight 1771, was recovered from the Central California hillside where the plane crashed Dec. 7.
"The identification badge with a photograph was definitely found and it was definitely David Burke's," the source told the Union.
All 43 aboard the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco commuter jet were killed when it crashed near Templeton, about 170 miles north of Los Angeles.
Samuel Douglass, a Los Angeles mortician who is coordinating funeral arrangements for PSA, said body parts of 16 of those killed have been identified. A mass funeral was scheduled today for the remaining 27.
Burke was able to smuggle a .44-caliber Magnum pistol aboard the plane, in an alleged plot to kill his former boss, apparently because Los Angeles International Airport security personnel recognized him as an employee of USAir, the parent company of PSA, and allowed him to bypass security checkpoints.
USAir officials said earlier that Burke turned in all his credentials but that he kept his uniform after he was fired Nov. 19 for stealing $69 of company money.
In response to the newspaper report, USAir spokesman David Shipley said his company had received no notice from investigators that the badge had been found.
"A badge was turned in when he was fired," Shipley said. "But it is possible for an employee to have another badge if he had reported it stolen or lost and requested a new one."
PSA spokesman Bill Hastings said, "It is our understanding that the ID badge was found, but we cannot get confirmation from the FBI."
Fred Reagan, a spokesman for the FBI, which is investigating the crash, would neither confirm nor deny that the badge was recovered.
"The information in that newspaper story did not come from this agency, Reagan said.
National Transportation Safety Board officials also said they were not aware that the badge had been found. San Luis Obisbo County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Slane said the information about the badge "wasn't generated out of our office or the FBI."
"If we had the information we probably would release it, but we're at a loss right now."
Federal rules stipulate that an airline is responsible for maintaining adequate security at its checkpoints. Barbara Abels, FAA spokeswoman for the Western region, said that if the agency determines an airline is lax in its security it can fine the carrier "up to $1,000 per violation."