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FBI raid Payne Stewart crash airline offices

Dozens of federal agents conducting a criminal investigation into the jet crash that killed golf champion Payne Stewart seized records and aircraft from the Sanford charter company that operated the deadly flight.

Nearly 50 agents from the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General swarmed the offices and hangars of SunJet Aviation at Orlando Sanford Airport in a daylong search.

The agencies are investigating "possible violations of federal law pertaining to maintenance and record-keeping and making false statements," said Philip Baiers, an FBI supervisory special agent in the agency's Orlando office.

The agents searched hangars, offices and four of SunJet's eight jet aircraft and carted off numerous boxes of records.

Baiers would not elaborate on the focus of the investigation, or say when the records and aircraft are expected to be released.

No arrests were made Tuesday, Baiers said.

The development was the first confirmation that authorities are pursuing possible criminal charges in the mysterious October crash that killed Stewart, business associates Robert Fraley, Van Ardan and Bruce Borland and SunJet pilots Michael Kling and Stephanie Bellegarrigue.

SunJet chief pilot Jim Watkins said Tuesday the company has broken no laws and has never cut corners on maintenance or falsified records.

"Do you think we'd fly on these planes ourselves if we weren't doing the maintenance?" Watkins said.

"We're not very bright, but we're not that damn dumb."

SunJet operated the Lear 35 twin-engine jet that was scheduled to take Stewart and his associates from Orlando to Dallas. Instead it veered off course, flew for hours with no one at the controls, and crashed in South Dakota after running out of fuel.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have yet to issue their findings but they are expected to blame the crash on a loss of cabin pressure.

It is not clear whether they will be able to determine the reason for the failure.

The federal agents may have been comparing maintenance records of the four aircraft that were seized to the planes themselves, possibly to determine whether the mechanical work documented in the records actually was carried out.

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