According to The Associated Press, a Dash 8 aircraft operated by US contractors with specialized electronics equipment capable of tracking drug smugglers crashed on Saturday (October 5) in a jungle region in northern Colombia, killing three American contractors and a Panamanian National Guardsman, and seriously injuring the other two Americans on board.
The Dash 8 was tracking a suspected smuggling vessel along with a Colombian vessel over the western Caribbean when it lost radio contact with the US-sponsored multinational task force in Key West, FL that operates drug interdiction in region.
The American contractors aboard were funded under a US Air Force contract and flew out of Panamá. The twin-engine turboprop plane went down near the city of Capurgana, Colombia close to the border with Panamá.
COMMENT: The two injured Americans were rescued by Colombian soldiers and taken to a hospital in Bogotá. The names of the dead Americans and the Panamanian National Guardsman were withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.
Colombian military sources report that rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) did NOT cause the crash of the Dash 8. Weather, human error and mechanical failure will all be assessed in the context of the cause of the crash.
Local farmers reported that the plane crashed at 0100 hours on Saturday in a rural part of the municipality of Acandi.
Carlos Ivan Márquez, 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% of their bodies.
Panama's National Air Service identified the deceased Panamanian guardsman as Lt. Lloyd Nuñez.
Operation Martillo (Hammer) is part of the $165 million, US-led regional security initiative that focuses on the seas off Central America, key shipping routes for 90% of the cocaine headed to the fourteen countries participating in the operation: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panamá, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Chile has also contributed to the operation.