Crash of small plane blamed on hidden drug cargo

Agents seek packages of drugs from the crashed plane.
Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo/Pau Gamboa

Two Guatemalans failed their math test big time Sunday when they took off from Pavas in a single-engine Piper Cherokee that appeared to be overloaded.

Police attributed their flying problems to the 200 kilos, some 440 pounds of suspected cocaine that was concealed in a wing fuel tank.

Investigators and Fuerza Pública officers waded in the Río Torres, at the scene of the crash, and managed to snag 170 kilos in one-kilo packages. The rest washed downstream, and residents along the river were seeking the remainder.

Security cameras photographed the airplane lumbering to takeoff at Tobias Bolaños airport and using nearly the entire length of the runway to get airborne shortly before 8 a.m.. The flight did not last long. Only about two minutes, said Omar Madrigal, head of the security ministry’s air service. The crash was northeast of the airport.

The aircraft veered to the left and to the Río Torres where it crash landed on a wooded bank. There was no serious damage on the ground, although there are densely populated areas in the vicinity. The plane was destroyed and the crash ruptured the wing and exposed the concealed packages.

Both the pilot and the co-pilot survived the crash but were hospitalized under police guard.

Just like the drug-laden helicopter that crashed in the mountains May 1, 2009, the accident alerted investigators to a new technique for carrying drugs north.

Hiding drugs in a fuel tank is a common practice in smuggling by truck. In fact, anti-drug agents discovered 79 kilos of cocaine in the fuel tank of a tractor trailer Friday at the Peñas Blancas border crossing with Nicaragua. The Costa Rican driver was detained.

Private aircraft do not get the same going over that agents give a truck crossing the boarder. The aircraft Sunday was en route to Guatemala.

The security ministry said that the aircraft arrived in Costa Rica Thursday. It may have come from the south. Agents were expected to exercise a search warrant at the hanger where the flight originated. One of the men on the aircraft was in the process of starting an air taxi service here, agents said. The aircraft was registered in Guatemala.

The men were identified by the last names of Ramírez and Monzón. Ramírez is 53 and his companion is 61, agents said. Cruz Roja emergency workers took them from the scene on stretchers.

At least one seemed to be conscious.

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