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Apparent Gunfire Heard In Cockpit Before Crash Of PSA Flight 1771

December 23, 1987 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A tape recording of Pacific Southwest Airline Flight 1771′s last moments contained three gunshot-like sounds, a pause, and then a final apparent gunshot, the FBI says.

The recording had sounds like two gunshots in the passenger area, then an intruder entering the cockpit, followed by the four sounds like shots just before the radio went dead, the FBI said Tuesday.

All 43 people aboard the PSA jet were killed in what was believed to have been a revenge attack by David Burke, a customer service representative fired by USAir, the parent company of PSA.

Authorities earlier had said only that shots were believed to have been fired in the passenger cabin before the jetliner crashed in San Luis Obispo County.

Officials declined to speculate if the final sound was that of a suicide bullet fired by Burke, who is believed to have smuggled a borrowed .44-caliber Magnum pistol aboard the jet that crashed Dec. 7.

″You have to extrapolate that. I am not prepared to say that,″ said Fred Reagan, spokesman for FBI’s office here.

Wreckage and bodies were strewn over a five-mile area and the gun, with six shots expended, was found buried in the mud at the crash site. The FBI said it had been loaned to Burke by a friend.

The cockpit voice recorder ″confirms that just prior to the pilot’s making an appeal to the (Federal Aviation Administration’s) Oakland Center, two noises were heard that sounded like gunshots aboard the aircraft,″ said Richard Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.

″The pilots reported this to the Oakland Center and, after declaring an emergency, one pilot was heard to state that he was taking the aircraft to a lower altitude,″ he said. ″A female was then heard to say in a controlled voice a one-word warning to the captain.

″There was an unlawful entry to the cockpit followed by three sharp reports that sounded like gunshots. Some commotion was recorded in the cockpit and shortly before the recording ended, another shot report sounding like a gunshot was heard,″ Bretzing said.

The latest FBI disclosure ″gives a little more insight into the occurrences that ended the flight,″ PSA spokesman Bill Hastings said from the airline’s San Diego headquarters. ″Hopefully, some more detail will come out eventually.″

Reagan said a transcript of the cockpit recording was being withheld pending completion of the FBI investigation, at which time the information will be turned over the National Transportation Safety Board for release.

The BAe 146 four-engine jetliner was en route to San Francisco from Los Angeles International Airport when it crashed in a rural, oak-studded hillside near Paso Robles, 175 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Officials believe its 22,000-foot plunge was caused by Burke, 35, taking revenge on Raymond Thomson, the supervisor who fired him from USAir on Nov. 9 when he allegedly stole less than $69 in beverage receipts. USAir recently purchased PSA. Thomson was also on the plane.

Burke apparently bypassed security checks before boarding the flight. Federal authorities imposed tighter security at U.S. airports Monday, including mandatory security checks of all airline personnel boarding flights.