By Gary Walker
The plane crash that killed four people, including the president/CEO of a local construction company and his son, has prompted a United States congressman and safety activists who live near the site of the accident to demand that the federal government consider runway protection at Santa Monica Airport.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Venice) whose district also includes Santa Monica, wrote to Deborah Hersman, the acting head of the National Transportation Safety Board, voicing his concerns about how homeowners who reside less than 250 feet from the runway are at risk if a plane overruns the runway.
The Sept. 29 crash has sparked renewed concern about the lack of protection at the airfield’s runway.
“I am writing on behalf of my constituents who reside near the Santa Monica Airport. I have repeatedly called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address concerns in the community over safety conditions at the airport,” the congressman wrote Hersman in the Oct. 3 letter. “But the FAA has inexcusably failed to act.
“I request you immediately address these problems and establish additional safeguards as quickly as possible.”
Victims identified in the fatal accident were Mark John Benjamin, 63, the president and CEO of Morley Builders, and his son Luke, 28. Also killed in the Cessna Citation 525A were Lauren Winkler, 28, the younger Benjamin’s girlfriend, and Kyla Dupont, 53.
Santa Monica city officials offered their condolences days after the bodies were indentified and cited the elder Benjamin as a respected community advocate.
“We mourn all of the victims lost in the tragic aircraft accident of Sept. 29. Mark Benjamin is well known to the city of Santa Monica. He was a treasured member of our community as a corporate and community leader as well as a generous philanthropist,” said Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould.
“Under Mark Benjamin’s leadership, Morley Builders has been a tremendous partner for the city in constructing major projects benefitting the community and the region such as our beloved Main Library, the Big Blue Bus Maintenance Facility, Parking Structure 6, and the Douglas DC-3 Spirit of Santa Monica Memorial.
“Mark supported numerous community organizations including the Ocean Park Community Center, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, Santa Monica-Malibu schools, the Westside Family Health Center, the Santa Monica History Museum, and the Santa Monica Police Activities League to name a few,” Gould continued. “Mark will be sorely missed by all he touched and by the Santa Monica community that he served as a corporate leader and humanitarian.
“I extend my condolences to the employees of Morley Builders and feel their loss at this tragic time.”
The transportation board is investigating the cause of the accident. Arriving from Hailey, ID, the jet hit an airport hanger upon landing and subsequently collided with three other hangars, causing a fire, according to the FAA.
Waxman said he would be following the probe and the results of the accident.
“I will closely monitor the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the cause of the crash. If the crash was the result of airport safety problems, I’ll want to do all I can to correct them,” the congressman pledged.
Santa Monica Airport Commissioner David Goddard said one way to make the airport safer is to have fewer aircraft landing and taking off from the airfield. “We’re attempting to get the City Council to reduce the number of flight operations,” he said.
The city’s Airport Commission recommended what is known as a flight operation reduction rule to the council last year and the city’s governing body has directed its staff members to analyze the recommendation.
Waxman, who has written several times over the years to the federal government regarding the city-owned airport, told Hersman how the FAA has been unwilling to work with him in even small ways.
He referenced a community forum in Venice in June where the federal agency was invited.
“Three months ago, I wrote the FAA with the simple request that the agency participate in a forum in Santa Monica with city of Santa Monica officials and members of the community to discuss options for the future of the airport,” Waxman stated in his letter. “I was extremely disappointed when the FAA declined the invitation to participate in a public forum.
“(At the end of September), I wrote that ‘the FAA has an important leadership role to play in charting the airport’s future and requested a meeting with you to discuss moving forward with a public forum,” the congressman continued. “To date, I have not received an answer from you.
“I expect one without delay.”
Goddard said he welcomes any assistance that Waxman can provide.
“We deeply appreciate Rep. Waxman’s assistance with airport safety,” the commissioner said.
While tragic, Waxman said the crash that killed Benjamin and his party can serve as an opportunity to examine safety conditions at the general aviation airport.
“The fatal crash should be a wakeup call,” he concluded. “You should thoroughly review the conditions at the airport, implement safeguards to protect the community, pilots, and passengers, and make the safety of the Santa Monica Airport an urgent priority.”
FAA representatives did not respond to inquiries regarding airport safety at Argonaut press time.
Santa Monica: Waxman requests quick action on runway safety after airport crash
By Gary Walker