South Carolina Learjet Crash Kills Four, Seriously Injures Two
A chartered Learjet 60 carrying two crew members and four passengers crashed during takeoff from Columbia, South Carolina on September 18. Killed in the crash were the 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. Los Angeles celebrities Travis Barker, former drummer for Blink-182, and celebrity disc jockey Adam Goldstein, known professionally as DJ AM, survived the crash with second and third-degree burns, but are expected to make a full recovery.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the cause of the crash. The NTSB noted that the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the crew thought they had blown a tire and attempted to abort the takeoff, but were unable to stop the jet. The plane raced off the end of the runway and through a fence, crossing a highway before coming to rest. The plane was quickly engulfed in flames.
A witness to the crash described the plane as a fireball, and saw Barker and Goldstein frantically attempting to douse the flames from their clothes. The witness indicated he was told four others were still onboard the aircraft, but the flames were so intense he was unable to approach the burning wreckage. It took firefighters over an hour to gain control over the flames.
The jet was bound for Van Nuys, California at the time of the crash. Barker and Goldstein had just finished a concert and were flying home to California when the crash occurred. Baker and Still were close friends of Barker; Baker worked as Barker’s personal assistant and Still was Barker’s bodyguard. According to information released on September 22nd, Baker and Still died on impact, as autopsy reports did not find evidence of any smoke in their lungs.
The jet was owned by Global Exec Aviation, which provides charter flights for business executives and celebrities. The jet was certified to operate last year. The plane recently experienced technical issues that forced the plane to be diverted twice in the past month. On September 12 the jet took off from Teterboro, N.J. bound for Oklahoma when 20 minutes into the flight the plane was diverted back to New Jersey. Six days later, the plane again departed New Jersey, flew for 47 minutes, and returned to the Teterboro airport. Investigators are likely to focus on why the plane was diverted back to its original destination and whether there were any mechanical issues or maintenance issues causing the plane to be diverted.
The NTSB indicated that parts of the Learjet’s tire were recovered from the runway. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is the manufacturer of the tire and is cooperating with the investigation. The NTSB is likely to focus on whether a defective tire is the proximate cause of the crash.
Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy has investigated and litigated cases involving Learjet aircraft and the firm has represented the families of celebrities and media figures in aviation accidents, including singers/songwriters Ricky Nelson and John Denver; the family of New York Yankee Thurman Munson; Michael Scully, son of Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully; and KFI traffic reporter Bruce Wayne. Two of the firm’s attorneys are general aviation pilots while one of our attorneys flew helicopters in Vietnam. The firm extends our deepest sympathy to those lost and injured in this tragic accident.