- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 13 (UPI) — A U.S. reconnaissance plane carrying four U.S. citizens and a Colombian has crashed in southeast Colombia, the country's director of civil aviation, Juan Carlos Velez, confirmed Thursday.

Initial reports suggest two of the crew were killed, one was wounded and two more are missing. Aircraft belonging to the Colombian air force located the plane between the villages of Doncello and Paujil near the Orteguaza River. It was attempting to land near Florencia in the Caqueta province.

The plane's pilot had earlier reported damage to the plane's left wing. Other reports said the plane reported engine trouble prior to crashing.

The Cessna 208 was transporting the men between the Larandia and Tres Esquinas airbases in the Caqueta region, where there is a large presence of leftist rebel guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The group is at war with the government in Bogota and the U.S. State Department regards it as a foreign terrorist organization.

There's no suggestion yet that a guerrilla attack was involved in damage to the plane. The zone where the plane crashed is under the control of the Colombian Armed Forces, the goverment said. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in Washington said, however, the plane crashed in rebel-controlled territory.

The pilot lost contact with controllers at 10:30 a.m. local time, shortly after reporting that the aircraft's left wing was damaged.

The plane was used to gather information about the activities of drug traffickers and rebel forces in the southern region.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota said it would conduct an immediate investigation into the accident.

This is the second fatal accident to a U.S. aircraft since the United States began providing military and financial aid to the Colombian government under the terms of the Plan Colombia.

The first crash occurred in 1999 in Putamayo near the Ecuadorian frontier, killing five U.S. citizens and two Colombians.

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(Reported by Owain Johnson in Caracas, Venezuela, and Pamela Hess in Washington)


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