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Four die in plane crash; rock star, DJ survive

Former Blink-182 drummer, 'DJ AM' are badly burned.

September 21, 2008|Geoff Boucher and Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writers
  • The wreckage of a Learjet that was carrying former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, Adam Goldstein, also known as DJ AM, and four others rests on an embankment along Highway 302, along the outskirts of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, today in Columbia, S.C.
The wreckage of a Learjet that was carrying former Blink 182 drummer Travis… (Bret Flashnick / Associated…)

The crash of a Learjet in South Carolina that killed four Southern Californians stunned rock music fans Saturday with news that the two badly burned survivors are former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and popular DJ Adam Goldstein, both of Los Angeles.

Barker, 32, who not only played drums in the platinum-selling band but also starred in his own MTV reality show, and Goldstein, 35, known as DJ AM and the owner of the Hollywood hot spot LAX, were in critical but stable condition Saturday at Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., said hospital spokeswoman Beth Frits.

The fiery crash shortly before midnight Friday in Columbia, S.C, killed Chris Baker, 29, of Studio City and Charles Still, 25, of Los Angeles, both members of Barker's entourage.

Also killed were pilot Sarah Lemmon, 31, of Anaheim Hills and co-pilot James Bland, 52, of Carlsbad, Calif., according to the Lexington County coroner's office.

Still's aunt said a crowd of friends gathered throughout the day Saturday at their Riverside house as word of her nephew's death spread. "There are guys crying just like ladies would cry," Vacie Thomas said.

The small plane, en route to Van Nuys, was taking off at Columbia Metropolitan Airport when air traffic controllers saw sparks. Officials described what happened next as a "high-speed overrun."

The jet veered off the end of the runway, plowed through a perimeter fence and then crossed a roadway before slamming into a berm, where it became engulfed in a "significant fire," said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The flight took off several hours after Barker and Goldstein's show Friday, which included performances by former Jane's Addiction singer Perry Ferrell and singer Gavin DeGraw. It had drawn about 10,000 people into the streets of the Five Points neighborhood near the University of South Carolina, Columbia Mayor Bob Coble told the Associated Press.

The plane was operated by Global Exec Aviation of Long Beach and was certified to operate last year, an NTSB official said.

A 10-member NTSB team walked the crash site and retrieved the cockpit voice recorder, which was rushed to a lab in Washington, D.C. Because of the ferocity of the fire, investigators were unsure of the viability of the recording.

Global Exec spokesman Mark Shafer declined to comment. He said the company is sending a management team to South Carolina to cooperate with the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration. The company's website states that it caters to corporate clientele, including "many VIPS in the entertainment industry."

Relatives of co-pilot Bland gathered at the Redondo Beach home of his sister Laura Bland, who described her older brother as a veteran flier who began his career at age 17.

He logged 20 years of helicopter pilot duty for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and also spent time in the air for police departments in Santa Ana and Laguna Beach. A family man, Bland shared his Carlsbad home with his wife, Anne, 46, and 16-year-old daughter, Erin.

"He always said this could happen," Laura Bland said in a phone interview. "But of anybody we knew, he was just so conscientious that we didn't expect this at all. . . . When he was a little kid, my grandfather would take him to the Orange County airport and watch the planes take off, and he'd say, 'I'm going to do that someday!' "

Shafer declined to release information about pilot Lemmon, and her family could not be reached for comment.

The two passengers who died, Still and Baker, worked for rock star Barker. Still, nicknamed Che, was a longtime friend of Barker and sometimes worked as a bodyguard when the drummer performed in small shows.

Baker, nicknamed Lil' Chris, worked as a personal assistant to Barker and had appeared occasionally on MTV's "Meet the Barkers," the domestic-life reality show that followed the drummer, his wife and their children in 2005 and early 2006.

The 6-foot-5 Still, described by one friend as "a gentle giant," was a star football player at Centennial High School in Corona. He attended San Jose State before leaving his studies for two years when his father died.

Still was an imposing figure but also a doting son, who had taken his mother, Thelma Still, out to dinner last month for his late father's birthday. Still called before the plane took off to let her know he was flying home, his mother said.

"He was just loved and we walked and we would hold hands and we would do all the things," she said. "We were going to the fair this weekend."

The plane crash drove heavy traffic on the Internet on Saturday as fans and music industry insiders searched for news about the two survivors.

Barker is one of the more famous faces to rise up in the Southern California pop-punk scene. Unlike many drummers who are fairly anonymous figures at the rear of the stage, he parlayed his popularity with Blink-182 into television roles, advertising appearances and varied business ventures.

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