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Four bodies recovered from wreckage of Calif. plane crash

Workers prepare to use cranes to extract a twin-engine Cessna Citation 525A aircraft from inside a collapsed hangar which it slammed into, b
Workers prepare to use cranes to extract a twin-engine Cessna Citation 525A aircraft from inside a collapsed hangar which it slammed into, b

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Medical examiners recovered four bodies on Tuesday from the wreckage of a small jet that crash-landed into a hangar and burst into flames at the Santa Monica airport near Los Angeles over the weekend, the coroner's office operations chief said.

The four dead from Sunday's crash - two men and two women - have yet to be positively identified. That effort, and autopsies of the victims, will likely take another day or two to complete, said Chief Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner.

Two of the presumed victims were identified on Monday by a Santa Monica-based construction firm, Morley Builders, as the company's chief executive, Mark Benjamin, 63, and his son, Luke, reported to be 28.

The Idaho Conservation League, for which the elder Benjamin served as a board member, said Luke Benjamin's girlfriend was also believed to be among the passengers. Her name was not given, and there was no word on who the fourth victim might be.

Harvey said there was no evidence to indicate that anyone else was on board the twin-engine Cessna Citation when it veered off the right side of the runway and crashed in flames into an airplane hangar as it was landing at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport on Sunday evening west of Los Angeles.

Recovery of the remains was delayed until crews were able to hoist the fallen structure of the hangar off the plane's wreckage and shore up the damaged building to allow examiners to work safely inside.

Harvey said the bodies were burned but not as badly as had been anticipated, which will make identification easier.

The accident capped a flight that originated from an airport south of the Sun Valley ski resort in the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho.

Mark Benjamin, a pilot and owner of the plane, flew frequently between his primary residence in the Los Angeles area and his second home in Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley, according to Aimee Moran, an Idaho Conservation League officer.

He was apparently at the controls of the aircraft when it crashed, she said, but that has yet to be confirmed.

"We are heartbroken at the loss of Mark Benjamin and his son Lucas in a tragic accident," Morley Builders said in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon.

"We are proud to be associated with the company that Mark's family founded. He had a profound influence on each of our employees, the Southern California landscape, our local community, and the construction industry," the statement said.

The cause of the crash, which the Los Angeles Times said is believed to be the first of a jet aircraft in the history of Los Angeles County's oldest operating airport, is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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