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Salvadoran Jet's Pilots Held in Gun Smuggling

January 15, 1989|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

The pilot and co-pilot of a Salvadoran jetliner were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday on suspicion of attempting to smuggle a cache of firearms to El Salvador.

Customs agents said they recovered seven semiautomatic pistols and a .12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun--known in some circles as a "streetsweeper"--after receiving a tip from an informant.

The agents said it was not immediately determined whether the weapons were intended for any organized group.

Ed Adamson, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Customs office, said a tip that came on Friday night said the cockpit crew on Flight 2511 of TACA International Airlines--scheduled to leave at about midnight--would be attempting to smuggle the guns out of this country.

Agents checked the luggage and persons of all those boarding the plane and found nothing, Adamson said. Moments later, however, an agent saw a pair of TACA stewardesses starting to leave the terminal with some luggage. The luggage carried the identifications of the cockpit crew.

Adamson said the agents questioned the stewardesses, who said pilot Francisco Jerez, 30, and co-pilot Francisco Panameno, 29, had asked the women to carry their bags out of LAX after hearing about the luggage check. Agents said they found the weapons in the bags the two women were carrying.

Customs personnel boarded the plane shortly after midnight and arrested Jerez and Panameno without incident. The two were booked into the federal detention center in downtown Los Angeles on suspicion of violating the Neutrality Act, which prohibits the export of weaponry without a State Department license.

Adamson said a Customs agent rushing to assist the agent who had stopped the stewardesses broke a leg when he tried to scale a fence.

The stewardesses, who apparently had no knowledge of the weapons, were not arrested, agents said.

The airline had no immediate comment.

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