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FBI Confirms Note In Plane Wreckage Was From Fired Worker

December 12, 1987

CAYUCOS, Calif. (AP) _ The FBI confirmed Friday that a revenge note found in the wreckage of PSA Flight 1771 was written by a fired airline worker believed responsible for the jet’s crash.

Hundreds of people attended memorial services Friday for victims of Monday’s crash, which killed 43 people.

Investigators believe David A. Burke carried a borrowed pistol past airport security guards who recognized him and let him pass without screening, then boarded the jet and scrawled the message to his ex-boss before using the gun and possibly explosives to send the plane into a 22,000-foot plunge.

Burke, 35, and his former supervisor, Raymond Thomson, were among those killed when the Pacific Southwest Airlines jet, bound for San Francisco from Los Angeles, disintegrated into a hillside near this central California community. He had been fired by USAir, which owns PSA, on Nov. 19.

Had he survived, he would have been charged with murder and air piracy, Los Angeles FBI chief Richard Bretzing said.

At PSA headquarters in San Diego on Friday, a 15-minute memorial service was held in a hangar at Lindbergh Field for several hundred PSA and USAir employees and several relatives of dead crew members.

″Let us reach out to these families with sympathy and support,″ PSA Chairman Paul Barkley told the mourners.

The note was the newest of the evidence gathered at the crash site and at Burke’s Long Beach condominium to implicate the British-born ex-ticket agent.

The revenge message was scrawled on an air sickness bag found Thursday in the jet rubble. It read:

″Hi Ray, I think it’s sort of ironical that we end up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family, remember. Well I got none and you’ll get none.″

FBI handwriting experts in Washington determined Friday the message was written by Burke, Bretzing said. Thomson, 48, fired Burke for allegedly stealing less than $69 in beverage receipts from the airline.

Searchers located a partial severed finger and were able to make positive fingerprint identification of Burke as one of the dead, FBI spokesman Fred Reagan said Friday.

Emergency workers began pulling out of the crash site Friday afternoon. San Luis Obispo sheriff’s Lt. Tom Garrity said that after deputies picked up the last important debris they would keep the area sealed for several days until PSA removes remaining wreckage.

In an affidavit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the FBI quoted a National Transportation Safety Board investigator as saying that a seven-mile swath of charred documents on the ground indicated an explosion as well as gunfire might have caused the crash. Experts have said gunshots alone likely would not have caused the jet to crash unless the crew was disabled.

Reports that investigators had located a bullet hole in the pilot’s seat of the PSA jet were false, Reagan said.

In November - the date was not specified in the affidavit - Burke traveled to San Francisco to visit Joseph Drabik, a friend and fellow USAir worker. During the visit, he borrowed Drabik’s .44-caliber Magnum Smith and Wesson handgun and 12 bullets, the FBI said.

Agents traced the gun found in the wreckage to Drabik and he acknowledged he loaned it to Burke, the affidavit said.

Bretzing said all six bullets in the gun’s chambers had been fired.

The affidavit by FBI Special Agent Kevin D. Kelly said Burke apparently learned Thomson was taking Flight 1771 to San Francisco on Monday, so he bought a one-way ticket for the same flight.

In excerpts from the cockpit voice recorder, a flight attendant was heard saying: ″We’ve got a problem here,″ CBS News reported. A male voice responded: ″I’m the problem.″

The conversation took place after pilot Gregg N. Lindamood reported to air traffic controllers that there were gunshots in the passenger compartment.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a source familiar with the cockpit tape as saying a scuffle could be heard, including ″a groan and a gasp″ from a man believed to be the pilot, as the jet started its 22,000-foot nose-dive.

Burke’s relatives contend he had everything to live for, including several recent investments and potential business deals.

″They’re trying to solve a case and he’s the logical one to hang it on,″ said his brother, Altamont Burke, 27, of Atlanta. ″How do you find a note like that on a plane that smashed into a million pieces? I don’t believe any of that.″

Burke worked for USAir for 14 years, mostly in Rochester, N.Y. He transferred to Los Angeles just a year ago.

A feud between Burke and Thomson apparently started at least five months ago. On July 15, Burke, who was black, went to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and said he had been passed over twice for promotion to customer service supervisor because of his race.

Burke alleged white workers with less experience were promoted to positions he deserved, and blamed Thomson for the alleged discrimination, said Annabella Hwa, the department’s district manager in Los Angeles.

She said Burke decided against filing a formal complaint.

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