The doomed crew piloting a Learjet that crashed on takeoff, killing four people and injuring Travis Barker and DJ AM, thought a tire blew as they hurtled down the runway and struggled unsuccessfully to stop the plane, a federal safety official said yesterday (Sept. 21).
National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said a cockpit voice recording of the Friday night crash indicates the crew tried to abort the takeoff, but then signaled the efforts were failing. “The crew reacted to a sound that was consistent with a tire blowout,” Hersman said.
Barker and DJ AM remained in critical but stable condition yesterday; one of their doctors said he expected them to fully recover.
Two of the musicians’ close friends and the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were killed when it shot off the end of the runway, ripped through a fence and crossed a highway. It came to rest on an embankment a quarter-mile from the end of the runway, engulfed in flames.
Hersman said no cause of the crash has been determined and the investigation is ongoing. She did say that pieces of tire were recovered about 2,800 feet from where the plane started its takeoff. The runway is 8,600 feet long.
The plane was traveling at least 92 mph, its minimum takeoff speed, when the crew thought the tire burst, Hersman said.
One aviation expert said the crew would have had just moments to abort or lift off because such a Learjet needs more than 5,000 feet of runway to get in the air. If the plane hit about 138 mph, which can happen quickly during takeoff, the crew would have run out of runway, said Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the federal Transportation Department.
“If you have to abort a takeoff because of a problem with the plane, you don’t have a lot of runway left because it uses up so much just on its takeoff roll,” Schiavo said. The jet, which was headed for Van Nuys, Calif., is owned by Global Exec Aviation, a California-based charter company, and was certified to operate last year, Hersman said.
Pilot Sarah Lemmon, 31, of Anaheim Hills, Calif., and co-pilot James Bland, 52, of Carlsbad, Calif., died in the crash. Also killed were Chris Baker, 29, of Studio City, Calif., and Charles Still, 25, of Los Angeles. Baker was an assistant to Barker and Still was a security guard for the musician. All were killed by smoke inhalation and burns, according to the Lexington County coroner.
Investigators said they want to speak with Barker and Goldstein for their accounts of the crash, including how they survived. One witness said he discovered the musicians in the street near the fiery wreck as they frantically tried to douse their burning clothes.
Hersman said officials will give the men more time to recuperate. “They’re the ones that are going to be able to give us the best firsthand knowledge,” she said. Dr. Fred Mullins, medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, said the two suffered second- and third-degree burns but had no other injuries from the crash and are in overall good health.
Barker was burned on his torso and lower body and DJ AM, whose real name is Adam Goldstein, was burned on an arm and a portion of his scalp, according to a statement from the musicians’ families released by the hospital. Such injuries can take a year to fully heal, however Mullins said he didn’t think it would take that long.
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