Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Drug Plane "Forced" to Land!?

On Tuesday the Honduran newspapers were full of a story that seemed to involve helicopters or maybe fixed wing aircraft  intercepting and forcing a drug plane to crash-land in Yoro.

More details have appeared in the press today, enough to call into question parts of the story.

The official story on offer by spokespeople for the Air Force in Honduras (unnamed) is that two helicopters (or maybe fixed wing aircraft) of theirs intercepted and followed a Cessna 310R aircraft with a Venezuelan tail number.

According to the official story, the plane was forced to land, and attempted to use a rural road previously used by drug aircraft as a landing strip, but struck some tree branches and ended up wrecked, in pieces, alongside the road. A bad enough crash to wreck the plane, but not severely injure the pilot.

The military helicopters (or fixed wing aircraft), instead of landing, or reporting the event to the nearest authorities on the ground, flew back to their base, and it wasn't until the next morning when residents of the area found the aircraft and called the police that someone came out to the "crash" site to investigate.

By then the lone pilot, and his cargo, were long gone.

Residents of the area report that the plane, which landed around 11 PM Monday night, was met by strangers in cars who unloaded the plane and left in the direction of Jocon, Yoro.

These details make it seem clear that the plane, tail number YV1440, intended to land on this road. It was met by people prepared to offload the pilot and any cargo.  You don't organize such a project at the drop of a hat.  It had to be pre-arranged.

So if this aircraft always meant to land there, where's the "force"? We've seen photos of many wrecked planes that attempted to land on rural Honduran roads, all without military intervention.

As of Tuesday afternoon the official spokesperson for the Honduran Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Jeremias Arevalo, knew nothing of the event, according to La Tribuna.

So what part of this story is true?

Well, there is a Cessna 310R, tail number YV1440, lying in pieces next to a road in Yoro.

According to a website that tracks flight plans, that tail number belongs to a Cessna 182 Skylane from Venezuela, which clearly is not the plane pictured in Yoro, which is a Cessna 310R.

An airplane with the listed tail number that does match the one on the side of the road in Yoro shows up in this ad from Venezuela, for sale for about $230,000, offered by a Miguel Angel Gonzalez in Venezuela.  The phone number listed is that of the Restaurant White, a Mediterranean-style restaurant in Caracas, Venezuela.

It seems clear from the photos in the Honduran newspapers and on the website offering the plane for sale that the two planes are one and the same.  Same paint job, same configuration, but with all the seats, except for that of the pilot, removed.

Maybe some Air Force helicopters or planes intercepted this Cessna and followed it for a while, but it seems unlikely they actually forced it down.

Judging from the reception party waiting, it always intended to land there, or somewhere nearby, or there would not have been cars ready to pick up the pilot and cargo and spirit them away.

What about the lack of reporting the plane back to anybody on the ground?  This leads me to believe that at best, the Honduran Air Force intercepted and chased the plane (which flies slowly, top speed about 220 MPH), but lost it before it landed, as some reports stated on Tuesday.

Someone seems to have felt the need to make up a better story: but on the face of it, this is another in a series of unchallenged flights using small planes treated as essentially disposable-- presumably transporting drugs.

The continued inability of the Honduran Air Force to actually do anything about this traffice casts General Rene Osorio's recent statements about shooting down drug planes into a different light. Presumably, his subordinates would report it if they shot one down.

Then again...

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