MANAGUA, Nicaragua — An Illinois man linked to the U.S.-backed Contras was captured after anti-aircraft fire hit his small plane and he made an emergency landing in southeast Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border, the Defense Ministry said today.
Documents captured along with the American on Sunday linked him to the U.S. government and the Contra rebels, a ministry statement said.
Radio Sandino identified the pilot as James Jordan Denby. Relatives in Illinois confirmed that Denby is a farmer from Carlinville.
Kitsie Denby, who identified herself as the captured man's sister-in-law, said today that Denby, 57, also owns a farm in Costa Rica near the Nicaraguan border.
Admits Assisting Contras
He has a light plane registered in Costa Rica, and uses it to fly to the farm, which is "pretty much inaccessible except by plane," she added.
James Denby has freely admitted offering non-military assistance to the Contra rebels.
"I've helped them in any way they've asked me to. We feel it's our war too," Denby told the Associated Press in a summer interview.
He said he had offered his help to the Contras for years but denied gunrunning.
Official U.S. policy is that a private American citizen outside the United States is free to help insurgents such as the Contras without violating any American law.
The Nicaraguan statement today said that Denby was flying a Cessna 172 "when he violated Nicaraguan airspace" and was forced down near San Juan del Norte, 200 miles southeast of Managua in Zelaya province near the border with Costa Rica.
On Contra Supply Route
Voice of Nicaragua radio said the captured flier "used the same supply route of the Contras, which is El Salvador-La Ceiba, Honduras, and Las Pavas, Costa Rica."
In Costa Rica, civil aeronautics authorities said the plane was reported missing after leaving La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast 118 miles north of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, at 8 a.m. Sunday bound for Las Pavas.
It was the second time in 14 months that a U.S. citizen was captured after flying in Nicaraguan airspace.
On Oct. 5, 1986, Sandinista troops shot down a transport plane that was transporting arms to the Contras. It was carrying three U.S. citizens and a Nicaraguan. One American, Eugene Hasenfus, survived and was ultimately set free.