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Shot Down on 10th Flight, Captured American Says : Asserts CIA Assisted in Operation

October 09, 1986|Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — An American captured when Sandinista troops shot down his cargo plane said today that the aircraft was carrying weapons to the contra rebels and that he worked with CIA employees.

Eugene Hasenfus, 45, of Marinette, Wis., said on a nationally broadcast news conference that he has made 10 trips to deliver weapons to the anti-Sandinista rebels. He said four of the flights were from Aguacate air base in Honduras and six were from Ilopango air base in El Salvador.

"We would be flying into Honduras to an air base called Aguacate and we would be loading up on small arms and ammunition and this would be flown to Nicaragua," he said. "These we would drop to the contras."

He said 24 to 26 "company people" assisted the program in El Salvador, including flight crews, maintenance crews and "two Cuban nationalized Americans that worked for the CIA." The CIA is known familiarly as "the company."

Hasenfus identified the nationalized Cuban-Americans he said worked for the CIA as Max Gomez and Ramon Medina.

CIA Denials Repeated

CIA spokeswoman Kathy Pherson said the agency could respond to Hasenfus' remarks only by repeating its earlier denials of involvement.

President Reagan and other U.S. officials also have denied that the plane or its crew were connected with the American government. The three other crew members, including two Americans and a third man believed to be an American, were killed when the plane was shot down Sunday in the jungle of southern Nicaragua.

Hasenfus said the CIA employees' jobs were "to oversee housing for the crews, transportation projects, refueling and some flight plans."

He said he was told he would be paid $3,000 per month plus housing, transportation and expenses for working with the air crews.

"I was told we would be flying DHC Caribous and C-123 K-models," he said.

At the news conference, the Sandinista army's chief of intelligence, Capt. Ricardo Wheelock, said, "Mr. Hasenfus is being treated under the best possible conditions . . . for a prisoner of war."

U.S. Consul-General Donald Tyson met with Nicaraguan officials at the Foreign Ministry for two hours today.

Diplomat Silent

Asked afterward when the Sandinistas would allow embassy officials to meet with Hasenfus, Tyson replied: "I really don't have anything to say."

Hasenfus' wife, Sally, arrived at the ministry with the U.S. Embassy officials but did not leave with them.

On Wednesday, Nicaraguan officials said Hasenfus will be put on trial and could face up to 30 years in prison. The government has not announced charges against Hasenfus.

Earlier today, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Angela Saballos said the bodies of the three dead crew members will be returned to their families.

Nicaraguan officials identified the dead as pilot William J. Cooper and co-pilot Wallace Blaine Sawyer Jr., both U.S. citizens, and a man who has not been identified but is believed to be American.

Two published reports today said that a logbook reportedly captured on the plane and signed by Sawyer lists 34 crew members who served on various flights for the contra rebels during the last two years.

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