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Cocaine Seized After Emergency Landing of Bolivian Air Force Plane

August 5, 1991

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ A Bolivian air force plane carrying 35 pounds of cocaine made an emergency landing in remote western Paraguay, and authorities on Monday arrested the three people aboard, including a lieutenant.

The Cessna C-310 was forced to land Thursday in the arid Chaco region about 550 miles west of Asuncion, the capital. On Saturday, a second Bolivian air force Cessna crashed near the site of the first, and authorities have detained the two airmen aboard for questioning.

Authorities found the cocaine in the first plane under one of the passengers’ seat, Paraguayan officials said.

The Bolivian air force said the plane had been rented by civilians, a practice allowed because it gives pilots flight time the air force otherwise can’t afford. A statement denied that the air force or the pilot of the plane, Lt. Verly Valdez Ruiz, were aware the plane had drugs aboard.

The brief statement from La Paz did not say why Bolivian officials did not contact Paraguay after the first crash-landing and instead dispatched a second plane to search for the Cessna.

It said Valdez Ruiz was carrying the passengers to the border town of Yacuiba when bad weather forced the plane to land in Paraguay.

Criminal Court Judge Cristobal Caceres, who ordered the arrests Monday, had no comment on whether he believed the incident implicated the Bolivian air force in narcotics trafficking.

The pilot, as well as civilians Salomon Saldivar and Urbano Vacca, were detained at the police department’s narcotics division in Asuncion.

It was unclear where the plane took off from or was headed when it landed 60 miles inside Paraguay’s section of the arid, sparsely populated Chaco region, over which the two nations fought a bloody war in 1932-35.

The two airmen aboard the Bolivian plane that crashed Saturday, Maj. Mario Prada and airman Oscar Artesana, were detained for questioning at Paraguay’s Third Army Corps outpost at the town of Mariscal Estigarribia.

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