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Community leaders among 5 killed in plane crash at Long Beach Airport

The Beechcraft King Air crashes shortly after takeoff Wednesday morning. Among the 5 dead are a member of the city's founding family and local developers. A survivor is in critical condition.

March 17, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • A jet taxis past the wreckage of a Beechcraft King Air that crashed Wednesday at Long Beach Airport. The group of six were on a skiing trip to Utah. Five aboard were killed and a survivor was critically hurt. The pilot of the craft was circling back to land when the plane slammed into the ground.
A jet taxis past the wreckage of a Beechcraft King Air that crashed Wednesday… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Five men, including three prominent Long Beach community and business leaders, were killed and one person seriously injured Wednesday when their Salt Lake City-bound plane crashed along a runway at Long Beach Airport and burst into flames.

The group of six were on their way to ski in Park City, Utah, friends said. The twin-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff at 10:37 a.m., authorities said.

The pilot of the Beechcraft King Air was circling back to land when the plane slammed into the ground and came to rest in a grassy area nearby. Authorities don't know what caused the crash.

Firefighters arrived within a minute to extinguish the flames and used special tools to pry and cut open the twisted wreckage. Four passengers and a pilot died.

The victims included local developers and a member of the city's founding family. Among the dead were 44-year-old Long Beach real estate broker and cycling activist Mark Bixby; Long Beach real estate investor Thomas Fay Dean, 50; and his business partner Jeff Berger, said City Councilman Gary DeLong.

The pilot and a fifth victim have not been identified.

The lone survivor, 51-year-old Long Beach real estate executive Mike Jensen, remains in critical condition at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.

"These were charismatic men that believed in Long Beach, made a real contribution and worked towards a better community," Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said in a statement.

Dean was a local real estate investor who owns much of the Los Cerritos Wetlands in the southeastern part of the city. As principals with LCW Partners, Dean and Berger had worked together on a controversial land swap with the city last year.

Dean "was a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, but a very successful entrepreneur," said Randy Gordon, president and chief executive of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Bixby, 44, was a real estate broker for Pacific Retail Partners and a cycling activist who had worked to establish the Long Beach Bike Festival and had been an advocate of building a bike and pedestrian lane on a new bridge over the Port of Long Beach. He is survived by his wife, Theresa, and their three children.

Bixby is a descendant of a family that in the 19th century began developing Rancho Los Cerritos into what would become Long Beach. While his name is a virtual institution in the city, friends remembered Bixby as tireless and humble.

"There was no ego about Mark, even though the Bixby name goes way back in Long Beach," said Gordon, a longtime friend.

Allan Crawford, a friend who went on an early Wednesday morning bike ride to Huntington Beach with Bixby and a group of 20 cyclists remembered him as "vivacious and most of all he was giving. He was so generous with his time and talents. His presence will be incredibly missed."

Over coffee that morning, Bixby told Crawford that he and his boss, Jensen, were flying to Utah later that morning to go skiing in Park City and that he would be back in a few days.

Inspectors with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are working to determine the cause of the crash. The plane was registered to Carde Equipment Sales, a Los Angeles-based company, FAA records show.

The last fatal plane crash at the Long Beach Airport was in 2005, when a single-engine plane crashed into an industrial building near the runway shortly after takeoff, killing both men aboard.

A single-engine plane crashed during takeoff at the airport in 2009 but the student pilot suffered minor injuries.

"We are deeply saddened by this event," Airport Director Mario Rodriguez said at the scene. "This is the last thing any airport director wants to see."

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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