WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — A pilot and co-pilot killed in a Learjet crash in South Carolina died from smoke inhalation and burns, and two passengers were killed from the impact, officials said Monday.
Remarkably, former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and celebrity disc jockey DJ AM survived the Friday night crash with second- and third-degree burns. One of their doctors at a Georgia burn hospital said he expects them to fully recover.
A video of the crash scene released by police Monday shows an inferno next to the road and screams can be heard above the din of sirens of ambulances and fire trucks.
A firefighter said it took more than an hour to get the blaze under control.
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The pilot and co-pilot were burned on their entire bodies and died within minutes of the plane’s crash into an embankment about a quarter-mile from the end of the airport’s runway, said Brian Setree, chief deputy coroner for Lexington County. The two passengers, who were close friends of the musicians, died on impact; no evidence of smoke was found in their lungs, Setree said.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said they have not determined what caused the crash. However, they said a cockpit voice recorder revealed that crew members thought a tire blew and tried to abort the takeoff but couldn’t stop the plane. The Learjet 60 shot off the end of the runway, ripped through a fence and crossed a highway before coming to rest, engulfed in flames.
Killed in the crash were pilot Sarah Lemmon, 31, of Anaheim Hills, Calif.; co-pilot James Bland, 52, of Carlsbad, Calif.; 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.
Setree said it wasn’t possible to determine if the crew members were conscious after the plane came to rest. A witness who came upon the scene moments after the crash said he discovered the musicians in the street near the fiery wreck as they frantically tried to douse their burning clothes.
The witness, William Owens, described the plane as a fireball shooting across the highway. Owens said he was told there were four other people on board, but they were making no noise and the flames were too hot to get close. “I immediately knew there was no saving them,” he said Saturday.
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.
Tire material recovered from runway
NTSB member Debbie Hersman has said pieces of tire were recovered from the runway. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. manufactured the tires on the Learjet and is cooperating with the investigation, the company said Monday.
Public records show the jet earlier this month returned to a New Jersey airport before reaching its destination in Oklahoma. The records do not say why the plane diverted back 20 minutes after it took off Sept. 12 from Teterboro, N.J.
Six days later, the aircraft took off from Teterboro again, flew for 47 minutes, and returned to the New Jersey airport, the records show. The next night, the plane arrived in Columbia at 11:08 p.m.; the crash happened less than an hour later.
Officials for Global Exec have said they are cooperating with investigators, but did not immediately respond Monday to questions about the Teterboro flights.
Barker starred in the MTV reality series “Meet the Barkers” with his then-wife, former Miss USA Shanna Moakler. In a statement released Monday, Moakler thanked fans for their support.
“We can only ask for prayers as we heal and mourn the loss of our dear friends who we considered part of our family,” Moakler said. “Our lives will be changed forever.”
Famous Stars and Straps, a clothing and accessory line created by Barker, announced that memorial funds had been established to benefit the families of Baker and Still.
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