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Plane Search in Colombia Hampered

July 27, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Thick fog prevented recovery teams from reaching a remote mountainside to inspect wreckage thought to be that of a missing U.S. anti-drug reconnaissance plane, U.S officials said Tuesday.

The wreckage was first sighted Sunday, and U.S officials speculated the plane, which disappeared Friday, had crashed into a mountaintop not specified on maps.

White House anti-drug chief Barry McCaffrey, on a visit to Colombia, said ground teams had not yet been able to reach the site.

``The wreckage site has not yet been recovered. It is premature to speculate on the crash site,″ he said.

Steve Lucas, a spokesman for the Southern Command in Miami, said fog and low clouds in the area ``are pretty much continual.″

Although the U.S. army says it is holding out hope for survivors, McCaffrey said earlier that the five American soldiers and two Colombian airmen on board had probably died in the crash.

The Havilland RC-7 disappeared from radar screens while flying over a major drug-producing region dominated by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The missing airplane, packed with sophisticated radar and eavesdropping equipment, was on a ``routine″ counter-narcotics mission over Putumayo state, which in recent years has seen an explosion in the cultivation of coca _ the raw material of cocaine.

According to McCaffrey, U.S. airmen fly around 2,000 anti-drug sorties throughout the Caribbean and Andean region _ part of an aid program valued at nearly $300 million this year.

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