Plane with Americans crashes in Colombia, 4 dead

Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A plane carrying five Americans and a Panamanian on an anti-drug mission crashed Saturday in a remote part of northern Colombia, killing four of the occupants and seriously injuring the other two, authorities said.

U.S. Southern Command confirmed that three Americans were killed and two survived when the DH-8 aircraft went down near the Colombian city of Capurgana close to the border with Panama. The Panamanian on board was killed and the two injured Americans were rescued by Colombian soldiers and taken to a hospital in the capital, Bogota.

Gen. Nicasio de Jesus Martinez, commander of the Colombian army's Brigade IV whose troops traveled to the accident scene, ruled out the possibility that the plane was shot down by rebels still active in Colombia.

"There was no aggression, no impact ... it was a failure," said Martinez, adding that it was too soon to know if the crash was caused by mechanical failure, human error or the weather.

Local farmers reported that the plane went down at about 1 a.m. in a rural part of the municipality of Acandi, said Mayor Gabriel Jose Olivares. Capurgana is in the municipality of Acandi.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, chief of Colombia's national office for disaster response, said the surviving Americans had injuries including multiple bone fractures and burns over at least 40 percent of their bodies.

The plane had been contracted by the U.S. government to provide detection and monitoring of drug trafficking routes in the coastal region of Central America, Southern Command said in a statement. It said the names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.

"We express our sympathies to the families of the deceased, and are particularly saddened by the loss of a Panamanian Air National Guardsman," said Gen. John Kelly, commander of United States Southern Command. "We also want to thank the Colombians for their outstanding rescue and recovery efforts. The U.S., Panama, Colombia, and all of our partners in Operation Martillo remain committed to our longstanding cooperative relationship for counter-narcotics operations."

Panama's National Air Service said in a statement that Panamanian officer Lt. Lloyd Nunez had died in the crash. It said the plane went down during an anti-drug operation along the border of the two countries and that Panama was assisting Colombia in the rescue operation.

Santiago Castro, director of Colombia's Civil Aviation agency, said the small plane wasn't civilian so he couldn't provide details about its route, origin or destination.

The region where the plane went down is mountain jungle and units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, operate in it along with drug traffickers, the Colombian army said in a statement.

The statement from U.S. Southern Command said there was no indication the plane was shot down.

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