Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
UPDATE: 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 as part of Operation Martillo, the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement. The flight had lost communications over the Western Caribbean before crashing near Capurgana.
The statement said the names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.
Operation Martillo (Hammer) is part of the $165 million, U.S.-led Central America Regional Security Initiative, which focuses on the seas off Central America's beach-lined coasts, key shipping routes for 90 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. Fourteen countries participate in the operation: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Chile has also contributed to the operation.
Packages filled with an estimated $27 million after it was seized during Operation Martillo in April 2013. (Credit: Getty Images)
Original story appears below.
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.
Panamanian officials said three Americans and a Panamanian military officer were killed, and the other two Americans on board were injured. The Americans have not been identified. The crash took place in Choco province, 340 miles northwest of Colombia's capital, Bogota, near the border with Panama.
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.
Farmers reported that the plane went down at about 1 a.m. local time in a rural part of the municipality of Acandi, said Acandi Mayor Gabriel Jose Olivares.
Carlos Ivan Marquez, chief of Colombia's national office for disaster response, said the injured received first aid in a nearby community before being transported to Bogota for treatment of injuries that include multiple bone fractures and burns over at least 40 percent of their bodies.
Panama's National Air Service said in a statement that officer Lt. Lloyd Nunez was killed in the crash along with three Americans. It said the accident occurred 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. Olivares said he didn't know the origin or destination of the flight.
The region where the plane went down is mountain jungle and units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and drug traffickers all operated in it, the Colombian army said in a statement.
Officials at the U.S. Embassies in Bogota and Panama City did not immediately comment on the accident.
This story has been updated.