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L.A. Now Live: Latest on Santa Monica jet crash, airport debate

October 01, 2013

Join us at 9 a.m. when we talk with Times reporter Dan Weikel about the plane crash at Santa Monica Airport.

Concerned about noise, pollution and safety, Westside communities have been pushing city officials for years to either close the airport or slash flight operations -- demands that intensified after Sunday's crash of a private jet that slammed into a hangar, killing at least four people.

The fiery crash, which occurred as the plane landed after a flight from Idaho, is believed to be the first fatal accident involving a jet in the airport's history. The impact and fire collapsed the hangar's steel roof onto part of the aircraft as well as planes stored inside.

On Tuesday morning, officials said they were removing four bodies from the charred site. 

Two of the victims were tentatively identified as Mark Benjamin, a 63-year-old Southern California construction company chief executive, and his son, Luke, 28. The identities of the other victims were not immediately available.

Residents near the airport and community activists say the crash of the twin-engine Cessna Citation stokes some of their worst fears because the plane came to rest about 150 feet from homes near the northwest section of the airfield.

"It's a warning of what could really happen," said John Fairweather, founder of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic. "Obviously we are saddened by those who lost their lives in that plane. Our concern is what would have happened if it hit houses and the fire spread beyond the hangar."

There have been at least 11 crashes involving planes coming and going from Santa Monica since 1989, according to federal records. Six crashes were confined to airport grounds, and two planes struck homes, two came down in the ocean and one crashed on a golf course. The airport had about 7,300 takeoffs and landings in August, the most recent month for which data were available.

Some community activists are pushing to turn the 227-acre airport into a park. They say that the federal requirements and leases to operate a large portion of the property as an airport, including a section of runway, end in 2015.



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