Plane Loaded With Mostly Soviet Weapons Crashes in El Salvador; Four Dead
PIEDRA PACHA, El Salvador (AP) _ A plane carrying mostly Soviet missiles and other weapons presumably for leftist rebels crashed near this southeastern village Saturday. Three crew members were fatally injured and a fourth apparently committed suicide.
Salvadoran and U.S. military officals said the flight of the single-engine Cessna originated in Nicaragua and that the crash was proof Nicaragua’s Soviet-backed Sandinista government smuggles weapons to El Salvador’s guerrillas.
A second plane also apparently on an arms smuggling mission was burned at a landing strip southeast of the capital San Salvador. Both planes apparently ran out of fuel.
Later, rebels fired on a military helicopter carrying reporters to the site of one of the two planes and two foreign cameramen were wounded.
Colleagues said Hugo Burgos, a camerman for Cable News Network, and Alfredo Hernandez Lopez, a reporter for the Mexican government radio network were wounded when the guerrillas opened fire near Zacatecoluca, 18 miles southeast of San Salvador.
The pilot managed to land the helicopter at the Comalapa international airport and doctors at the Central Military Hospital in San Salvador said Burgos was in serious but stable condition and Hernandez suffered minor injuries.
The Cessna was carrying 25 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles - 24 Soviet-made and one U.S.-made - a Soviet-designed anti-tank weapon and mortar shells. It crashed in a soybean field just north of the town of El Transito, about 60 miles east of San Salvador.
The Salvadoran military press office reported Saturday afternoon that the second light plane, which had been used to smuggle weapons to the rebels, was set afire on a dirt landing strip 7 miles southeast of Zacatecoluca.
It said residents of the area told army officers the plane’s crew unloaded boxes, presumably containing ammunition, after it landed. The press office said the plane apparently did not have enough fuel to take off and the crew burned the craft and then fled.
The Cessna, painted black and with no registration number, did not burn. Col. Ricardo Casanova, commander of the 6th army brigade, said it crashed when it ran out of fuel.
Fredy Garay, a peasant who lives about a mile from the crash site, told reporters he heard a sputtering motor and the sound of a crash at 5:30 a.m. He said as he and a friend approached the wreckage they heard a single shot.
Garay said two of the plane’s crewmen were dead, one died shortly after he and his friend arrived and the fourth was dead from a bullet wound in his right temple.
Three of the victims wore military fatigue uniforms. None of the four had identification papers, and officials said it was presumed they were Nicaraguans.
An officer showed reporters a Belgian-made Browning pistol that he said presumably was used by the crewman who shot himself.
Engraved on the pistol was, ″Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua″ - Nicaraguan national guard.
The rear cargo section of the plane was intact but the front section was destroyed. Salvadoran troops and a U.S. military adviser were at the Piedra Pacha site within an hour after the crash.
When reporters arrived at midday the weapons had been placed in front of the wreckage - 24 Soviet-made SAM-7 missiles, one U.S.-made Redeye anti- aircraft missile, a Soviet-made 75mm recoiless rifle and 21 Soviet- manufactured 82mm mortar shells.
A flight plan found in the wreckage indicated the plane was to have landed at a beach near Amatecampo, south of the capital.
Lt. Col. Luis Turcios told reporters the surface-to-air missiles represented ″a great threat.″ He also said the plane ″was proof of Sandinista intervention in the Salvadoran conflict, of their aid to the terrorists.″
Guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front have not used surface-to-air missiles in their 10-year-old war against a succession of U.S.-backed governments. Such missiles could provide a tactical boost to the rebels, who last week waged their biggest offensive of the war.
El Salvador is northwest of Nicaragua and the two countries are separated by the Gulf of Fonseca in the Pacific Ocean. They do not share a land frontier.