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Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 was a commercial flight that crashed near Cayucosmarker, Californiamarker, United Statesmarker on December 7, 1987 after an incident of air piracy. All 43 people on board the aircraft died, including the man who caused the crash, an angry former employee of USAir, the parent company of PSA.


David Burke (born May 18, 1952) was a former employee of USAir, the airline that had recently purchased, and was in the process of absorbing, Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). Burke had been terminated by USAir for petty theft of $69 from in-flight cocktail receipts and, after meeting with his supervisor in an unsuccessful attempt to be reinstated, he purchased a ticket on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, a daily flight from Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker to San Franciscomarker. Burke's supervisor, Raymond F. Thomson, took the flight regularly because he lived in San Franciscomarker but worked at Los Angeles International Airportmarker.

Using his USAir credentials, Burke, armed with a loaded .44 Magnum revolver that he had borrowed from a co-worker, was able to bypass the security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airportmarker. After boarding the plane, Burke wrote a message on an air-sickness bag. The note read:

Hi Ray. I think it's sort of ironical that we ended up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family. Remember? Well, I got none and you'll get none.

As the plane, a four engine British Aerospace BAe 146-200, cruised at 22,000 feet (6700 m) over the central California coast, the cockpit voice recorder recorded the sound of two shots being fired in the cabin. The cockpit door was opened and a female, presumed to be a flight attendant, told the cockpit crew "We have a problem". The captain replied, "What kind of problem?" Burke then announced "I'm the problem", then fired three more shots that incapacitated the pilots.

Several seconds later, the cockpit voice recorder picked up increasing windscreen noise as the airplane pitched down and began to accelerate. A final gunshot was heard and it is speculated that Burke shot himself. The plane then descended and crashed into the hillside of a cattle ranch at 4:16 p.m. in the Santa Lucia Mountainsmarker near Paso Robles and Cayucosmarker. The plane was estimated to have crashed nose first at a speed of around 700 miles per hour (1100 km/h, 600 kn), disintegrating instantly. The force of the impact meant that 27 passengers were never identified.

After the crash site was located by a CBS News helicopter piloted by Bob Tur, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker, who after two days over digging through what was left of the site found a handgun containing six spent bullet casings and a note written on the air-sickness bag written by Burke, admitting he was the person responsible for the crash. FBI investigators were also able to lift a print from a fragment of finger sandwiched in the pistol's trigger guard, which positively identified Burke. In addition to the evidence uncovered at the crash site, other factors surfaced: Burke's co-worker admitted to having lent him the gun, and Burke had also left a farewell message on his girlfriend's telephone answering machine.

Previously, Burke had worked for an airline in Rochester, New Yorkmarker, where he was a suspect in a drug-smuggling ring that was bringing cocaine from Jamaicamarker to Rochester via the airline. He was never officially charged.


Several federal laws were passed after the crash, including a law that required "immediate seizure of all airline employee credentials" after termination from an airline position. A policy was also put into place stipulating that all airline flight crew were to be subject to the same security measures as passengers.

See also


  1. "Gun-toting fired employee linked to PSA plane crash; ex-boss was also on flight," Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1987
  2. " Security badges lost," Houston Chronicle
  3. "Note of doom found in PSA jet wreckage; message apparently written by fired USAir employee supports FBI's theory of vengeance," Los Angeles Times, December 11, 1987
  4. " Ex-worker's badge found," Houston Chronicle
  5. " Kin of Suspect Defiant and Contrite," The New York Times, December 11, 1987

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