Santa Monica Plane Crash: Shut Down Airport Say Neighbors

Santa Monica plane crash Sunday

After Sunday night’s Santa Monica Airport crash that left no survivors, neighbors are again calling for the airport to be shut down. Residents in Sunset Park, separated from the airport by only a seven-foot and a 50-foot wall have long called for the airport to be closed. Residential area surrounds all sides of the airport. It is not the first time area neighbors have called for a shutdown.

Pete Thorson told reporters that every two or three years there is a crash in the area. Thorson’s home sits just on the other side of the wall separating the neighborhood and the airport. The room facing the airport belongs to his sons.

On Sunday night it was a Twin Engine Cessna 525A which veered to the right upon landing, crashed into a hangar and caught fire so intense the hangar virtually melted around the plane and rescue teams could not identify victims. It is presumed that Mark Benjamin and his son Luke are amongst the passengers. It is believed Benjamin was piloting the aircraft. The construction executive traveled frequently from the Santa Monica airport to Hailey, Idaho.

In 2011, a student pilot crashed into a neighboring home and in 2010 another aircraft went down on the Penmar Golf Course killing the pilot. Including yesterday, there have been nine crashes since 2000.  The city has enforced noise and time restrictions on the airport which is only six miles from LAX. There is a maximum noise level, no takeoffs after 11:00 p.m. and operational limitations as well. The airport enforces landing fees for planes not registered at the site.

Of Sunday’s accident, Santa Monica Fire Department Captain John Nevandro labeled the crash, “unsurvivable.” Stelios Makrides, manager of the airport was not certain if anyone was in the hangar just prior to the crash.

Residents have long told the city council that the airport is unsafe. They cite concerns not only for air quality and pollution but the fact that planes crash every couple of years.

Monday afternoon Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bowen stood with the residents making a statement that the airport should be closed.

State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) suggested non-renewal of the airport’s lease with the FAA which would, as a result, ban jets from landing at the airport. He said, “The airport was never meant for jets.”

David Goddard, Santa Monica Airport Commission Chairman, estimated the crash site was less than 200 feet from residences. “We’ve been attempting to get the City Council to reduce operations at the airport,” Goddard said. “The [assumed] fatalities were tragic, but I was certainly grateful that it happened on the tarmac … versus off the end of the runway.

The National Transportation and Safety Board was on scene Monday afternoon to investigate. Late in the day, bodies were yet to be recovered. Cranes were brought in to remove the hangar and get to the plane and its passengers. No word from the Santa Monica City Council on the neighbors’ call to shut down the airport.

By: Linda Torkelson

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