A plane carrying five Americans and a Panamanian on an anti-drug mission crashed Saturday in a remote, jungle region in northern Colombia, killing four of the occupants and injuring the other two.
U.S. Southern Command confirmed that three Americans were killed and two survived when the DH-8 aircraft went down near the city of Capurgana close to the border with Panama. The Panamanian on board died and the two injured Americans were rescued by Colombian soldiers and taken to a hospital in the capital, Bogota, it said.
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 active in Colombia.
"There was no aggression, no impact," 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 as part of Operation Martillo, 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.
"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 U.S. Southern Command. "We also want to thank the Colombians for their outstanding rescue and recovery efforts."
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.
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 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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