The cockpit voice recorder from the Pacific Southwest Airlines jetliner that crashed Dec. 7 near Paso Robles indicates that the man who invaded the cockpit fired three shots at the pilot and co-pilot and then, an instant before impact, fired a last shot that may have taken his own life, the FBI announced this morning.
The jet went into a steep dive and slammed into a hillside in the rugged coastal backcountry of San Luis Obispo County, killing all 43 aboard.
Authorities believe David A. Burke, a disgruntled former employee of USAir, which is PSA's parent company, smuggled a six-shot, .44 magnum revolver aboard the flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Burke had recently been fired from his job as a ticket taker at Los Angeles International Airport by another passenger aboard the flight, USAir official Raymond Thomson, 48.
Tape Confirms Gunshots
The FBI said today that enhanced readouts from the "black box" cockpit voice recorder recovered from the shattered wreckage confirmed earlier reports that two shots were fired in the passenger compartment--apparently at Thomson--as the British-built BAe 146 jetliner cruised at an altitude of about 22,000 feet over San Luis Obispo County.
Those earlier reports were based on the pilot's radio report to the Federal Aviation Administration's Oakland Control Center a moment later that "there's gunfire aboard."
The recorder readout released today showed that, "after declaring an emergency, one pilot was heard to state that he was taking the aircraft to a lower altitude," the FBI said.
"A female was then heard to say in a controlled voice a one-word warning to the captain," the FBI said. "Immediately thereafter, there was an unlawful entry into the cockpit, followed by three sharp reports which sounded like gunshots.
"Some commotion was heard in the cockpit area, and shortly before the recording ended, another sharp report which sounded like a gunshot."
While Burke left no suicide note, there is evidence he had been a troubled man.
In early November, a former girlfriend, claiming he had twice tried to strangle her, obtained a court order barring Burke from her residence in Hawthorne.
Fired Over Theft
A week later, on Nov. 18, he was fired by USAir, which took over PSA in a merger last May, for allegedly stealing $69 collected by flight attendants from in-flight cocktail sales. USAir was seeking misdemeanor charges against him at the time of his death.
Two days before the crash, the former girlfriend, Jacqueline Camacho, 23, told Hawthorne police Burke had pulled a gun on her--apparently the same gun he took with him on the plane.
Investigators recovered from the plane wreckage a handgun used by Burke and a threatening note apparently written by Burke to Thomson on an airsickness bag.