Sample Criminal Justice Research Paper on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight Crash

Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight Crash


Violence is seen as physical assault by various people. However, this is not only the case, but the extreme of violence. In the workplace, violence relates to conflicts arising within or outside the organization but is related to work. It begins from threats and verbal abuse to physical assault which may result to loss of life (Bossche, 2014). By exploring the Pacific Southwest 1987 plane crash, the study seeks to understand the causes of workplace violence, police response to such claims, as well as changes put in place to curb work-related violence.

About Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight Crash

This was a scheduled flight to Los Angeles, California to San Francisco. The flight crashed on December 7, 1987 in Cayucos of California, as a ramification of murder and suicide caused by David Burke. As a result, all passengers and flight crew aboard the flight lost their lives, five of whom were presumably killed by David Burke, a former employee of USAir, the parent company of the victimized Pacific Southwest airlines (Booth et al., 2009).

Events leading to the Incident

USAir on December, 1987, had recently purchased Pacific Southwest Airlines while Burke, a ticketing Agent, had been recently relieved off his duties by his supervisor, Raymond Thompson, for petty burglary of money in flight cocktail receipts. In addition, the perpetrator had been suspected of burgling receipts adding up to thousands of dollars. This was later evidenced by security personnel’s’ who randomly viewed a routine videotape of all employees’ activities in the company (Bossche, 2014). The tape revealed Burke stealing money but never disputed the changes when confronted by the supervisor. However, he asked for leniency in favor of his young family in an effort to retain the position, but his request was not granted (Booth et al., 2009). Consequently, on November 19, 1987, Burke was relieved off his position by Raymond Thompson who apparently acted as the USAir customer service manager and the immediate supervisor to Burke. On learning of his termination, David Burke became angry and violent thus threatening Thompson and other workplace employees. Consequently, he vowed to commit suicide after he saw his former supervisor suffer and die with no mercy.

Facts about the Incidence

David Burke, a 35-year-old father, was working with USAir, the parent company of Southwest Airlines, for more than thirteen years in New Yolk before moving to Los Angeles where he worked as a ticketing agent. While working in New York, Burke had been investigated by the FBI and the local police for automobile theft and narcotics sales but had been charged formally with no legal actions taken against him. In the case, his close friends and family portrayed him as a genuine, hardworking individual, but with mild cases of unpredictable violent behavior. Additionally, he was fired from his job by his supervisor, Raymond Thompson, who had accused him of stealing flights receipts resulting from in-flight operations. Consequently, after his supervisor failed to give him a second chance, he held hostage a female companion and her six-year-old daughter at gunpoint for more than six hours forcing them to drive him around Los Angeles, at home, and to see his few friends. Also, his close friends and neighbors described him as furious and out of control. For instance, some few weeks following his immediate termination, he persistently verbalized threats against his former supervisor, PSA, and USAir airlines at large.

On December 9, 1987, Burke availed himself at Los Angeles International terminal and bought himself a ticket destined at San Francisco with Pacific Southwest Airliners, who were his former employers. He had previously used his still active employee credentials to verify that his former supervisor would be on the related flight. Consequently, he managed to bypass the normal passenger security check and smuggled a smith and Wesson magnum revolver that he previously had borrowed from a co-worker (Booth et al., 2009). While airborne, Burke used the gun to kill his former supervisor and the entire flight crew before crashing the airplane resulting to the death of all 43 people aboard. Upon investigation, the FBI found the revolver which Burke had used to execute the massacre, as well as a note scribbled on the back of an air sickness bag addressed to his former supervisor Thomson. The note read that, it was ironical that Burke and Thompson had to end up like that. Burke specified that he had asked for mercy from Thompson but he declined it, hence Thompson was never going to get any mercy too.

The Culprit

The offender, David Augustus burke, was conceived on May 18, 1952 to a Jamaican couple living in the United Kingdom. Afterward, Burke immigrated to United States with his parents as a young adult. Before being employed by USAir, he previously worked for Rochester as a flight attendant in New Yolk, where he was suspected to be among the drug smuggling group that illegally peddled cocaine from Jamaica to USA via Rochester Airlines. However, he was never legally charged as the case lacked enough evidence. He later moved to Los Angeles as a method of dodging further or future suspicions from authorities. Furthermore, neighbors, some previous girlfriends, and various law enforcement authorities had characterized him as an extremely fierce individual with a short temper (Booth et al., 2009).

Police Response

The National transportation Safety Board swung into action immediately after the crash to investigate its cause. Patricia Goldman, the head of NTSB on-site investigator, commented that no apparent mechanical problems, framework damage, or general structure of the flight could have resulted to the crash. However, several days later, the FBI in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board discovered a hand-gun containing six utilized bullet casings and a note written at the back of an air sickness bag directly related to Burke’s ill intentions towards his former boss. In addition, Burke’s co-worker revealed having lent Burke the gun. Further investigations revealed Burke’s farewell message to his former girlfriend’s telephone responding machine (Booth et al., 2009).

Initial Law Enforcement Action

After the massacre, various laws were passed subjecting all airline employees to various passenger security screening measures before boarding a flight. In addition, an immediate seizure of airline employees’ workplace credentials upon termination from an airline position law was also enforced thus preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing a company’s flight information and other important information that may subject threats to the company’s employee and its clients either on board or at the workplace (Booth et al., 2009).

Government Response

Before the incident, a nation-wide security study had been carried out by the federal government regarding airline security. The study revealed some disturbing issues directly related to the Pacific Southwest Airplane crash. The issues on hand  included the smuggling of mock weapons past airport security personnel and missing airplane employees’ identification cards otherwise attributed to mismanaged airline personnel records. Based on these results, the federal Aviation Administration advised an immediate improvement on airline work personnel operations by enhancing on the quality of security inspection procedures in all airports, as well as increasing on manpower and personnel behavior monitoring procedures.

Implications for Prevention

The failure of various security procedures in the Pacific Southwest flight crash was evident. Amicable personnel procedures were adopted after the perpetrator was fired from USAir. Given Burke’s history with the company, it is certain that the supervisor’s company quickly seized the opportunity of his misbehavior to terminate him, which is legally justified. However, Burke’s history with violent temper and his wrong brushes with legal systems were probably known to his employer. In this regard, it is evident that the management should have taken various management precautions when dealing with such a violent and unpredictable individual. Therefore, an employee’s termination procedures must be accompanied with various counteracting solutions regarding their reaction and personality, and in case there are any retaliations, it follows that an employee’s termination from employment must not subject the organization, its employees, or its immediate clients into peril.


It is important to reduce or get rid of workplace-related violence or death by awareness, prevention, and interventions. Therefore, each organization must implement procedures to better their layoff procedures to avoid conflicting with their former employees in the future. Consequently, the government enacted laws and academic programs as a positive measure in response to the awareness, prevention, and intervention to future workplace-related violence. In addition, since violence in the United States is epidemic, more focus, resource allocation, more awareness of the dangers and threats related to workplace violence, as well as new technical focus and educational platforms must be implemented to act as controls and immediate response to workplace-related violence.


Booth, B., Vecchi, G. M., Finney, E. J., Van, H. V. B., & Romano, S. J. (January 01, 2009). Captive-Taking Incidents in the Context of Workplace Violence: Descriptive Analysis and Case Examples. Victims & Offenders, 4, 1, 76-92. 

Bossche, S . (2014). Workplace violence. Hoofddorp: TNO. Retrieved from