2 Colombians dead after Mexican plane crashes near Zoo

When a Super King Air landed on the Southern Highway in November 2010, a massive load Colombian cocaine was found hidden nearby and charges followed for several officers. Another plane fell from the sky in June 2011, on the outskirts of Guinea Grass Village in the Orange Walk district. That plane carried the Mexican flag on the fuselage. No passenger, pilot or cargo was ever found. But on Thursday night from as early as ten, residents on the Western Highway heard the distinctive sound of the engines of a low flying plane, possibly looking for a landing strip. By morning, it was confirmed that the plane had crashed. Both men on board, Colombian Nationals, died on impact. News Five contacted Minister of Police Dough Singh, who says he has been in contact with senior police officers on the ground but he could not comment. And though the links of Colombian Nationals and a Mexican plane has all the elements associated with narco-trafficking, is it? News Five’s Isani Cayetano visited the scene in Chopper Five.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

At two o’clock this afternoon a team of officers were still processing the scene of a fatal accident involving a single engine turboprop aircraft that crash landed near grassland northwest of mile twenty-eight on the Western Highway. Sometime around 9:30 on Thursday night residents in the neighboring Mahogany Heights community heard the whirring of an airplane as it hovered dangerously above their homes. Minutes later they reported hearing a sudden loud noise. The aircraft carrying two men had crashed in a savannah less than a mile away from the Foster’s residence.

Carol Foster

Carol Foster, Resident

“We had people having dinner over here and we heard this plane very low over the house and we thought this was strange. We wasn’t sure what it was. We carried on eating and we just left it. And about 11:30, the police came and said did we hear a plane crash and we said no, but we heard where the plane was and we have a rode that goes to the back of our house. And we said follow the road and we think it’s back there somewhere, but we are not sure. So he did go around and didn’t find it. And then about 7:30 in the morning, there is a guy who is on the ATV who works with two scientists and they have collared animals back there—he went back there and he went into the bush a little bit and he found a plane with two dead people. Came back here and when he came back here we made the phone call, we called the police and the police in Belmopan came really quickly. That guy went with them back there and showed them.”

Not too far from the scene of the wreckage were the bodies of forty-six year old Hector Velasquez and fifty-seven year old Miguel Rodriguez both Colombian nationals. The pair had suffered massive injuries and perished in the accident. Responding to the scene several hours later was a wildlife conservationist who was on a routine tour of the area.

Voice of: First Respondent

“This morning I went to work to check my cameras and thing, driving to the back in my ATV, I saw this white house in the savannah edge. So I wondered who put up another—cause we have a tent out there where we do surveillance with our animals and stuff like that and radio track them. I never even reached my camera site when I saw it was a plane that got the whole pine ridge edge dig up in the savannah. I took a look about ten feet from the area the plane was and I saw a person in the water with his buttocks up and his head is down in the water. So I turned right back immediately and went to Mister Foster, the guy who lives around there, and tell him that a plane had crashed there. He told me I heard it last night but we never knew where it landed. And after that he called the cops and the police they came right after that and I took them there and showed them where the incident happened.

When News Five arrived at the Foster’s residence this morning police had already swarmed the location and the media was barred from venturing beyond this point where two armed officers stood guard. A few hours later we did our own aerial reconnaissance and found that the badly damaged vessel was being prepared for removal from the scene of the crash.

While the airplane, registered in Mexico, was not found with any illicit cargo, however personal effects belonging to the pilot and his passenger were found including SIM cards, passports as well as global positioning equipment. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

When News Five left the scene police was still looking for any signs of the plane’s cargo. Velasquez died just days short of his November thirtieth birthday.

Channel 5

"Di Plane (Crash) Lan'!"

This morning around 9:00, the news went out in waves that a drug plane had crashed in the Belize District and two men were dead inside.

It happened behind the Belize Zoo, not far from La Democracia - in a very accessible area, on solid land, about a thousand feet from a much-used road.

And while it was news, scores of Belize District residents along the coast and up the central corridor knew something was up - because from 8:00 last night, a single engine plane was heard droning around at low altitude - either looking for some place to land, or to make a drop off. Police blanketed the Mahogany Heights area last night where it was last heard at 10:00 pm. They didn't find anything, and only daybreak revealed what had happened.

7 news was on the scene - and Jules Vasquez fills in the blanks:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
Police had the area blocked off but we snuck in and saw the anti-drug unit blanketing the area while regular police elements and the scenes of crime team went in for a closer look. We snuck a little closer and show hordes of police at the crash site and some distance away.

From a distance the wreckage of the plane looked like some kind of vertical structure in the middle of the bush. A closer look with magnified zoom showed police amidst the wreckage searching for clues. Soon enough though, we saw an ADU team coming our way and sure enough they wanted us gone.

ADU Officer
"The scene is in process right now so you have to go wait at the gate."

That gate is really the gate for a private property - where the media was held. About half hour later, police brought out the mangled bodies - we warn you it is not a pretty sight. The men are two Colombians - who died from the impact of the plane crash.

We spoke to the man who first found them at 6:47 am:

Jules Vasquez
"What did you see this morning."

Voice of man who found the plane
"This morning I went to work on my ATV and while going to check my cameras I saw a white house at the edge of the savannah, but when I got close it wasn't a house, it was a plane mash up, so I stop mu ATV and look at it. I see a person in the water with his head down and his butt was up. The plane engine was out, the front of the plane was mash-up. I turn back and told Mr. Richard who live around the area and he called the police immediately after that."

Jules Vasquez
"There was more than one person on the plane as it turns out. But you only saw on out?"

Voice of man who found the plane
"I only see one person outside of the plane. I never went that close to see because it's a crime scene and I don't want to be involve and I didn't know who was around there and I didn't know what it was all about, so I just turned back and told Richard that I went to check my camera and that there is a plane back there."

"He told me that he heard it last night, it almost flew over his house but he never hear where it went."

It didn't go far; police let us into the area around noon and we saw that the plane, a Cessna Centurion II, single engine crashed about a thousand feet behind that house.

Here's what happened: the plane was headed east, in the direction of Belize City when the left wing clipped this tree - cut off the entre top of the trie and then plunged into the pine ridge terrain.

After that, the plane literally disintegrated: the gnarled propeller ground into the earth - and five feet from that the wing-tip.

The theory is that after nose diving into the ground, the plane flipped - possibly even cart wheeled and ended up here in the bush - facing west, the opposite direction.

What's left of the wings is stained with the color from the grass the engine is almost literally disengaged from the front of the plane. The fuselage was twisted around, but inside the cabin we saw six seats - which is not standard for a drug running plane - which is not standard for a plane that transports drugs which has to have maximum cargo space.

That suggests to police that it may have been bringing a person or possibly money - but likely not drugs.

But what caused it to crash? Was it a mechanical or navigational error?

An investigation would have to point to that, but the Cessna had been heard flying low over the Belize district for two hours - with only a beacon light.

This is an area of higher elevation so the pilot may have miscalculated the terrain.

The abundance of aviation fuel in the deep gouges left by the plane as it flipped through the area suggest that it did not run out of fuel.

But looking at the lay of the area - it appears that there were a few hundred feet of clear hard pine ridge land just before the tree that the pilot crashed into, and if he had landed there it might have been the story of the plane everyone heard, but no one saw:

Voice of man who found the plane
"It land too close to the high ridge and that's where it ended up, but if was more in the clearance they would have survive I believe."

But in that case, with the cargo suspected to be somehow illicit, that it crashed may have been the best possible outcome for Belize law enforcement which has no aerial patrol presence or capability.

Now, investigators have to sift through clues, a bar of soap, the Mexican flag on the plane's mangled nose and most importantly what caused the pilot to clip this tree at 10pm.

This accident obviously draws immediate comparisons to the one involving a Mexican plane that landed on a cane road behind Guinea Grass in June.

That one also had a Mexican Flag on it and that also was a six-seater, and again, all the seats were intact - not consistent with a plane used for drug transshipment.

In that crash though, no one appears to have died, since the plane simply skidded off the wet road it was landing on. So, what was up with this plane? Well, one theory says that it did safely land - but that happened about 15 miles in on the Coastal Highway. At that point it is believed to have dropped off or picked up whatever was its cargo - and then it crashed on its way back out of Belizean territory.

Again that is just a theory and does not explain why the plane was flying so extraordinarily law west of The Belize Zoo. The two men inside, as we noted, are Colombian. Late information is that their names are Colonel Miguel Rodriguez and Hector Salcedes.

The Plane is Mexican registered.

Channel 7