TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A U.S.-registered DC-3 airplane piloted by an American was shot down by the Honduran air force after it entered Honduran airspace on an apparent drug mission, the government said Tuesday. All three people aboard were killed.
The plane was probably carrying narcotics from Colombia to an unknown destination, a statement issued by the armed forces said Tuesday night.
The aircraft was downed at 11:30 p.m. Monday in western Honduras after failing to answer repeated requests to identify itself and land on a specified airstrip, the statement said.
Personal documents identified the pilot as Joseph Bernard Mason, who carried U.S. and Panamanian pilots' licenses, the armed forces said. A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, speaking on condition of anonymity, said details about Mason were being withheld until his relatives were notified.
Identification of the other two people on board was delayed because their remains were scattered over a broad area, according to the Honduran statement.
No drugs were found in the burned wreckage "but it is believed the cargo was thrown out by the crew shortly before the plane was intercepted and brought down," the statement said.
According to the statement, the plane's route was similar to that of one followed by a plane captured three months ago carrying two Colombians and a load of pure cocaine valued at an estimated $500 million.
Downed Near Guatemala
Honduran and U.S. Defense Department sources had earlier said that the plane was believed to have been a C-47, the military version of the DC-3, and that it went down in Copan province near the Guatemalan border.
However, the wreckage was located near the settlement of El Caserio, about six miles from the border with El Salvador. It was found to be a DC-3 and carried a U.S. registration number, 49454, on its exterior and the Colombian registration HK-313 on the inside, the armed forces statement said.
The plane had entered Honduran airspace from neighboring Nicaragua and was traveling in a northwesterly direction, the armed forces statement said.
"The crew of the plane did not identify itself," it said. "Because of that, with all peaceful procedures exhausted, the air force carried out warning shots and then shot down the plane."
In Washington, the Pentagon said no U.S. military aircraft were operating in the area. U.S. government sources said they suspected the plane might have been involved in drug smuggling.