NTSB Still Searching Through Santa Monica Airport Crash Debris

Monday, 30 Sep 2013, 3:11:00 PM

Staff Report

By Parimal M. Rohit and Brenton Garen

Federal officials are still sifting through wreckage at the far northwestern edge of Santa Monica Airport (SMO), it was announced at a press conference early Monday afternoon.

Investigator-in-charge Van McKenny of the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) stated officials are in recovery mode but no bodies have been salvaged as of 1 pm Monday.

Accordingly, there is still no official confirmation of who was killed in yesterday’s plane crash.

The twin-engine jet arrived at SMO just after 6:20 pm Sunday evening and crashed into a hangar at the far end of the runway. Authorities say the jet continued veering toward the right – or northwest – as it was taxiing the runway from east to west.

Yet a man who was at SMO Monday morning and spoke to The Mirror on the basis of anonymity said he believed the jet plane had brake issues and turned toward the hangar in order to avoid colliding into the homes at the west end of the runway.

McKenny said two cranes would be needed to lift the wreckage of the hangar that collapsed onto the airplane after it crashed into the structure and burst into flames. He did not indicate how long this would take.

While officials stated they have yet to discover any bodies from the wreckage, a local general contractor believes its CEO and his son were on yesterday’s plane that collided into a hangar.

Morley Builders CEO & President Mark John Benjamin, 63, and his son Luke Benjamin are believed to be two of the people on board the fatal plane crash at SMO.

Employees at the Morley Builders head office in Santa Monica were told of the news Monday morning. Morley Builders is one of the largest Southern California-based general contractors headquartered at 3330 Ocean Park Boulevard with offices in Irvine and San Diego.

It is unclear whether other people were on the plane or whether Mark Benjamin, a registered private pilot, was the pilot of the flight.

Morley Builders Vice President Charles Muttillo issued a statement on its website Monday morning.

“We are aware of a plane crash at Santa Monica Airport last night,” Muttillo said. “While we do not have specific facts, we believe that our President and CEO, Mark Benjamin, and his son, Luke Benjamin, a Senior Project Engineer with us were on board. We are unable to issue a further statement at this time. We will provide you with more updates as soon as we learn of them.”

Santa Monca Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Laurel Rosen said Mark Benjamin was “a friend to many of us.”

“He was an important part of the Santa Monica Community, who not only supported the Chamber over the years but gave of himself to many organizations,” Rosen said. “Our hearts go out to his family, we will all miss him.”

Santa Monica businessman Nat Trives said Mark Benjamin's memory will indelibly be left for all to cherish in the years to come.

"When I learned that my friend Mark and his son were victims in the tragic crash last evening at SMO, I cried as if he were a member of my family," Trives said. "He was a quiet loving human being who had been a confidant of mine for years. He was a giant in the philanthropic world of our community and I imagine the many non-profits he and his company have supported over the years are all deeply saddened by this news."

According to flight tracking website Flightaware.com, the plane's tail number was N194SJ, which is registered in Malibu to CREX-MML LLC, a company with an address on Morning View Drive and owned by Mark Benjamin.

The website said the plane departed Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, ID at 5:14 pm MDT (4:14 pm PST). The flight lasted two hours 10 minutes before arriving at SMO.

The plane had departed SMO on Friday 7:15 pm PST, arriving at Friedman Memorial at 10:02 pm MDT.

The runways at the airport remained closed this afternoon.

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