AF NCO Among Dead in Drug-hunting Plane Crash

A member of the U.S. Air Force was among four people killed over the weekend when a turboprop drug-hunting plane crashed in northern Colombia, a Southern Command spokesman said Sunday.

Two American contractors and a Panama National Guardsman were also killed, and two members of the Dash-8 U.S. contract crew were seriously injured in the crash Saturday morning near the Panamanian border, said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders.

Flanders said the plane was "contracted by the U.S. government to provide detection and monitoring of drug trafficking routes in the coastal region of Central America." It lost communications over the western Caribbean, and then crashed near the city of Capurgana.

"There is no indication the plane was shot down," he said.

The military Sunday night withheld the names of the dead and injured Americans while their family members were being notified.

The flight was over the Caribbean working for the Key West-based regional headquarters of U.S. anti-trafficking operation called the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, and notified headquarters that "they had located a suspect vessel," said JIATF spokeswoman Jody Draves. Team members were contacting the Colombians to conduct either "an interdiction or a disruption," Draves said, "when communications were lost."

The Colombians scrambled some helicopters and found the crashed plane with two survivors, both American contractors and both suffering "shock, head injuries and burns."

Draves said a U.S. Air Force noncommissioned officer was on board, as part of a practice of providing military coordination.

Saturday's crash may have been the first fatalities suffered by JIATF-South, Draves added.

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