10/06/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT
When drummer Travis Barker learned how long it would take to travel from Los Angeles to Columbia, S.C., the fearful flyer almost backed out of performing with DJ AM near the University of South Carolina Sept. 19. "The commercial flights had him taking 16 hours with three layovers," says a pal. His solution: charter a private jet both ways—albeit hesitantly. "He hates those things," adds the friend.
After the concert Barker and DJ AM (Adam Goldstein)—along with Barker's assistant Chris "Lil' Chris" Baker and bodyguard Charles "Che" Still—boarded a twin-engine Learjet, which was cleared for takeoff at 11:53 p.m. But as it headed down the runway, air-traffic controllers and a witness on the ground noticed sparks coming from somewhere near the wheels. "I thought they blew a tire and were coming in," airport maintenance technician Nate Bozeman tells PEOPLE. "But then it got close to the end of the runway and didn't stop." According to the cockpit voice recorder, pilot Sarah Lemmon attempted to abort the takeoff; instead, the jet hurtled through airport antennae and then a fence before crossing a five-lane road and finally coming to rest on an embankment 100 ft. from the end of the runway. "As soon as it disappeared from view," says Bozeman, "it exploded."
Four of the six on board were killed (see box). Barker, 32, and Goldstein, 35, survived and were spotted a few feet from the wreckage by local resident William Owens, 60, who had been driving near the airport. "I saw two men beating off flames from their bodies," says Owens, who first told his story to NBC affiliate WIS-TV. "They tried to go to the grass, take their clothing off and put out the fire on each other." According to Lt. Josh Shumpert, who was at the scene, "They told me they slid down the wing of the plane. They were in shock."
Suffering second- and third-degree burns (but no other injuries), the men were taken to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga., 75 miles away. Goldstein, whose scalp and arms were burned, was airlifted to the hospital. But Barker, whose wounds are on his torso and lower body, went in an ambulance because he "didn't want to go back up in the air," says a friend. Both men underwent skin grafting surgery Sept. 21 and were listed in critical but stable condition. "A full recovery is expected," says Dr. Fred Mullins, the center's medical director.
"It's a seriously sad situation," says Atlanta-based pal Jermaine Dupri, who drove Barker's father, Randy, to the hospital. Also by the drummer's side: his blink-182 bandmate Mark Hoppus and ex-wife Shanna Moakler, 33, whom Barker called after the crash. "Our lives will be changed forever," she said in a statement. ("There's still love between them," says her mother, Gail.) Goldstein's support team includes ex-girlfriend Mandy Moore
, 24, his mother, Andrea, and his sister Lara Long. A friend who saw the DJ post-surgery says, "He came out of it just fine and wanted to get right back into things." That shouldn't surprise anyone who knows Goldstein. Having once beaten an addiction to crack, he also battled depression and obesity, underwent gastric bypass surgery and eventually turned his life around. Notes his brother-in-law Benjamin Long: "He's pulled through a lot of things in the past."
The pair will be released from the hospital when their conditions are upgraded, and Mullins expects they can be back at work in less than a year. For now Barker and Goldstein, says a pal, are "awake and healing and mourning the loss of their friends."