Local resident killed in Santa Monica jet crash

By City News Service

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office Oct. 4 identified two more of the four people killed in a private jet crash at Santa Monica Airport.

Earlier, the coroner’s office released the name of 28-year-old Lauren Winkler as one of the victims.

The office now has identified Mark Benjamin, a 63-year-old Malibu resident, and 53-year-old San Diego resident Kyla Dupont as two more crash victims, coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said.

The twin-engine Cessna Citation 525A, which took off in Hailey, Idaho, slammed into a hangar after veering off the runway about 6:20 p.m. Sept. 29 as it landed, causing the structure to collapse and sparking an explosive fire that spread to two other hangars.

Benjamin, president of Santa Monica-based Morley Builders, was believed to have been at the controls.

According to the company, Benjamin’s 28-year-old son Luke also died in the crash, but Luke Benjamin’s identity has not been confirmed by the county coroner’s office.

Winkler worked for an organization called Save A Child’s Heart, which provides free open-heart surgery in Israel to children from Africa and the Middle East, according to an article written by a friend of the woman’s father.

In the article, which appears on the website of Irvine-based BusinessGhost Inc., company President and CEO Michael Levin writes that Winkler was a fundraiser and executive at Save A Child’s Heart.

She and her boyfriend — presumably, Luke Benjamin — had traveled to Idaho for the weekend with the boyfriend’s father, according to Levin.

The victims’ remains were recovered Tuesday. The bodies of a dog and two cats also were found in the wreckage.

The cause of the crash was under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, but the probe has been delayed because of the federal government shutdown.

According to Van McKenny of the NTSB, there was no communication (from) the pilot indicating there was a problem with the aircraft at any time during the flight.’’

A witness told KCAL a tire on the landing gear might have blown out on touchdown, causing the plane to swerve to the right.

Crews had to shore up the roof of the hangar before workers could enter the structure and examine the fuselage of the airplane. That task was accomplished by late Monday night, and the bodies were recovered after daybreak Tuesday morning, coroner’s Chief Craig Harvey said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration in response to the crash, calling on the agency to review safety conditions at the airport.

I have repeatedly called on the Federal Aviation Administration to address concerns in the community over safety conditions at the airport. But the FAA has inexcusably failed to act,’’ Waxman wrote in the letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Waxman said he has been told that if the plane had not struck a hangar, it could have gone over an embankment and crashed into houses.’’