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Murder on board Flight 1771 “I’m the problem,” the killer said Researched and written by: Yolandie de Jager

THE LAST words heard on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 were “I’m the problem.”

But how did it happen that a perfectly serviceable airliner with the name “The Smile of Stockton” ended up in a nearly vertical dive crashing into a Californian hillside, taking the lives of all 43 passengers and crew on board?

And the most important question of all: -Who was the man behind the voice?


It was December 7, 1987, when Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 (a British Aerospace 146-200A, with registration N350PS) was on a scheduled flight from Los Angeles, California to San Francisco. The flight ended in tragedy, when it crashed near Cayucos, California, as a result of a string of murders committed by one of the passengers on board.

The man who is known to have caused the crash was David A. Burke, a former employee o USAir (the parent company of PSA). Burke was born on May 18, 1952. He worked as an aircraft cleaning specialist, but had recently been dismissed by USAir for petty theft involving a sum of $69.

Unfortunately, this was not the only incident, he was also suspected of other theft, totalling thousands of dollars. After an unsuccessful attempt the get his job back, Burke felt persecuted and was out to get revenge.


Ray Thomson was the man responsible for firing Burke.

Unfortunately for Ray, Burke knew that he was a passenger on Flight 1771; he regularly took the flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

With his mind set on revenge, Burke purchased a one way ticket for that same flight.

Many might wonder how he managed to bypass the normal security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport. It transpired that the answer was actually quite simple and in a way scary – he used his USAir credentials (which, of course, he didn’t return when he was fired). Nobody suspected that he was armed with a loaded .44 Magnum revolver, which he had borrowed from a co-worker.


After Burke boarded the plane, he wrote a message on an airsickness bag. 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.” It is unknown exactly when he gave the message to Thomson to read, but it is assumed it was after the aircraft had reached its cruising level and then moments before he shot him.

As the aircraft cruised at 22 000 feet, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the sound of someone entering and leaving the lavatory.

It has been suggested that it was Burke who entered the lavatory, possibly to draw the revolver discreetly and also to give Thomson time to read the note before killing him.............................. For the FULL ARTICLE please subscribe to our digital edition.

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