Little Bits of History

Disgruntled Worker

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 7, 2015
David Burke

David Burke*

December 7, 1987: Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 1771 crashes. The British Aerospace BAe 146-200A had left Los Angeles and was heading for San Francisco when it crashed into a rocky hillside near Cayucos, California. USAir had recently purchased PSA and a former USAir employee was onboard the plane. David Burke had worked as a ticket agent. He was terminated for petty theft after stealing $69 from in-flight cocktail receipts. While that was known, it was also suspected that he had embezzled other monies totaling thousands of dollars. After he was fired, he purchased a ticked on PSA Flight 1771 knowing his former boss, Ray Thomson regularly took the flight as he commuted between his job at LAX and his home in the San Francisco Bay area.

Burke borrowed a .44 Magnum from a co-worker and used his USAir credentials to bypass any security at the airport. He took his seat on the plane and then wrote a message on an air sickness bag. It is unknown if he delivered the message to his former boss or not. What is surmised is that he shot his former boss, twice. The plane was cruising at 22,000 feet over central California and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was able to record the sound of someone entering and leaving the lavatory. It is possible that Burke may have done so in order to be able to draw the gun without being seen. Also recorded were the voices of Gregg Lindamood (44) the pilot and James Nunn (48) the copilot. They were discussing turbulence when the CVR picked up two shots being fired in the cabin.

Thomson’s body was never found in the wreckage, nor was his seat. But the serial number of a seat with two bullet holes would have been the one right behind his. After the first shots were fired, Nunn let air traffic control know a gun had been fired. There were no further transmissions from the crew. But the CVR was still functioning and it recorded the cockpit door opening and flight attendant Debra Neil telling the crew “We have a problem!” The Captain asked, “What kind of problem?” and then a shot is heard and is assumed to have killed Neil. Then a voice said, “I’m the problem” and two more shots were fired. It is likely that Burke killed both men with a single shot each. The flight data recorder showed that control column was pushed forward, putting the plane into a dive.

There was one final gunshot heard on the CVR. Also aboard the plane was Douglas Arthur, PSA’s Chief Pilot in Los Angeles. It is assumed he was coming forward to try to save the plane. There is speculation over whether or not Burke shot himself before the crash, but the gun was recovered with his fingertip wedged in the trigger indicating he was still alive and holding the gun. The plane crashed at 4.16 PM going at a speed slightly above the speed of sound. When it struck the mountain at 770 mph, it disintegrated and killed all aboard. There had been 43 people on the plane that day. Burke had worked for an airline in New York prior to moving to California and was suspected of helping transport cocaine from his native Jamaica. He was never formally charged with that crime, but investigators learned that he had a history of violent behaviors. One of the outcomes of the crash was that all terminated employees had to immediately surrender all airline employee credentials.

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. – David Burke’s note on the air sickness bag

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. – Vladimir Nabokov

Is it hard for the reader to believe that suicides are sometimes committed to forestall the committing of murder? There is no doubt of it. Nor is there any doubt that murder is sometimes committed to avert suicide. – Karl Augustus Menninger

Revenge is barren of itself: it is the dreadful food it feeds on; its delight is murder, and its end is despair. – Friedrich Schiller

Also on this day: The Blue Marble – In 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 took a world-famous picture of Earth.
Can I See That Again? – In 1963, Instant Replay was first used during an Army-Navy football game.
Fireproof – In 1946, the Winecoff Hotel burned.
Cicero – In 43 BC, the Roman statesman was assassinated.
Play Nice – In 1999, RIAA filed a lawsuit against Napster.

* “David Burke” by Investigators cite cockpit break-in before jet crash, Warsaw Times-Union (December 10, 1987). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –


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