Security tightened in wake of discovery of airborne drugs

Costa Rican police officials pulled out all the stops Sunday night and Monday as they struggled to understand how a drug-laden plane could come and go without the cargo being discovered.

The crash happened in one of the few places in Pavas that is not full of people and houses. Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública

The flurry of police activity came after the Sunday morning crash of a Piper Cherokee carrying perhaps 200 kilos of cocaine in its wings:

There were these other developments Monday:

• The copilot, identified as Máximo Aníbal Ramírez Cotón, 53, died in Hospital México.

• Two men who hold positions in the company that owned the plane were detained trying to cross the border illegally into Nicaragua. They were identified as Rubén Martinez Trujillo, 53, and Elvis Mendoza Rivera, 31. Both are Mexican nationals.

• Immigration officials said that Martínez tried to trick them by booking a flight on a commercial aircraft leaving from Juan Santamaría airport.

• Immigration officials also disclosed that Martínez has been in and out of the country 25 times.

• Fuerza Pública officers beefed up the security at Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas while security officials denied that they were the blame for not detecting the drug load. The Pavas airport has international traffic but the bulk of the flights are within Costa Rica.

• Fuerza Pública officers also beefed up security at Hospital México where the pilot of the plane, identified by the last name of Monzón, remained in critical condition. Family visits to patients have been restricted. The hospital does not have a secure law enforcement wing.

The aircraft rolled to the left and crashed on the bank of the Río Torres about 8 a.m. after a long, lumbering takeoff from the Pavas airport.

Law officers said they thought that the drug shipment might have come from Quepos on another aircraft, which is why the drugs in the left wing fuel tank were not discovered when the plane got the routine once over from anti-drug agents.

The bulk of the investigation is in the hands of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública because that ministry houses the anti-drug police.

The company that owns the downed plane, ATA, maintains a hanger at the airport. Police searched it Monday after flying the two men caught at the border to the location.

There is no surprise that there are plenty of drugs in the country. Costa Rica has long been known as a transit point for the illegal substance. However, this appears to be the first time that a major shipment has been linked to the Pavas airport, which is operated by the civil aviation authorities.

The use of the airport as a drug shipment center probably would not have become known except that the pilot took off with the craft overloaded.

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