Agents found dead in Peru crash


August 30, 1994|By New York Times News Service

LIMA, Peru -- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday that searchers had found the bodies of five agents who were aboard an anti-drug plane that crashed Saturday in the Upper Huallaga Valley, where most of the world's cocaine is produced.

The twin-engined jet, which was carrying two pilots and three enforcement agents, was on a routine reconnaissance mission when it went down.

The Peruvian air force located the wreckage of the plane in the thick jungle of the Andean foothills Sunday afternoon, but rescue crews did not reach the site until yesterday afternoon because of rugged terrain and poor weather, American officials here said.

There was wide speculation here that the plane had been shot down by drug traffickers or leftist guerrillas who operate in the region and have attacked an air base in Santa Lucia where the DEA maintains its planes.

But drug officials said yesterday that a preliminary examination of the wreckage indicated that the plane had not been fired upon. While some suggested that the plane had mechanical problems, others said that was highly unlikely because the surveillance planes undergo rigorous scrutiny before a mission.

Bill Ruzzamenti, an agency spokesman in Washington, said the plane's black box, which records the pilot's conversations and flight information, had been recovered; he also said the agency had no idea what had gone wrong.

Western intelligence sources here have said the Colombian drug cartel has offered a reward of $50,000 to anyone who kills a narcotics agent and $500,000 to anyone who brings down a plane involved in anti-narcotics activities in the region.

The agency identified the agents on the plane as Frank Fernandez Jr., 38, of Washington, D.C.; J.W. Seale, 31, of Los Angeles; Meredith Thompson, 33, of Miami; Frank S. Wallace Jr., 37, of Houston; and Juan C. Vars, 32, of San Antonio.

The plane left Santa Lucia on Saturday, heading for Pucallpa, and was expected to make a routine stop in Tocache. But the base lost contact with the plane shortly after it took off. The next day, the Peruvian air force spotted the wreckage about 50 miles from Tocache.

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