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Mexico moves to quell foul play rumors in deadly plane crash

Authorities released radar images Wednesday in a bid to show that the plane crash that killed two top drug war officials Tuesday night was an accident, not sabotage.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 7, 2008



Mexico City

Mexican authorities have moved quickly to quell rumors that any foul play was involved in a plane crash Tuesday night that killed more than a dozen people, including two top officials leading Mexico's violent battle against drug traffickers.

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In an unusual move, authorities released radar images to underscore that, as of now, the crash appears not to have been an act of sabotage.

The images released follow the plane's descent – until the radar lost its altitude reading – before it crashed into busy rush-hour traffic.

Officials also played a recording of the final conversation between the control tower and the flight crew of the government Learjet, which was on an approach to Mexico City's airport. The pilot and air-traffic controllers discussed radio frequencies until communication cut out. "Can you hear me?" a controller asks the pilot. No emergency call was placed.

Mexican officials said they have found no evidence of a bomb explosion in the air. "Up to now, no indications have been detected that would allow us to form any hypothesis different from those of an accident," Luis Tellez, the transport secretary, told reporters Wednesday.

But he promised a "meticulous" investigation that could take weeks to complete. Authorities also said that US and British teams are being dispatched to assist in the investigation.

"It is rare for the government to release this information," says Erubiel Tirado, a security expert at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. One reason they've done so, he says, might be to address the suspicions that Mexicans have that this was actually the act of drug traffickers. "Many people on the street believe this was not an accident."

The Learjet was carrying Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and former Deputy Attorney General José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos when it crashed in an upscale neighborhood of Mexico City, killing all nine on board and injuring dozens driving along the roadway.

The crash scene was quickly sealed off Tuesday night, heavily patrolled by the police and military. Cars were flipped over and the side of a building was charred.

Despite Mexico's emphasis that this was an accident, the rumor mill was set off almost immediately in a country traumatized by violence that is more audacious by the month among drug traffickers. Public officials and even bystanders are increasingly victims. Some 4,000 have been killed this year related to drug violence.

At the scene Tuesday night, Mexicans buzzed about the causes. "There are versions going around. Some say it was an accident. I think this is sabotage," says Jesus Chávez, a tourist guide in Mexico City. "This tragedy is the zenith of violence in this country."

Mr. Mouriño, whose position as interior minister is comparable to a vice presidential post, had been Mexican President Felipe Calderón's "right-hand man" and coordinated cabinet efforts on the war against drug traffickers. "Mexico has lost a compatriot who worked for the service of his country," Mr. Calderón said Tuesday night.

The other high-ranking official, Mr. Vasconcelos, had dedicated most of his life to fighting organized crime. He survived at least one potential assassination attempt this winter, when five hit men allegedly out to kill him were arrested. He headed the organized-crime division for the Mexican attorney general until August.

Calderón has not announced a new interior minister. For now, Deputy Interior Minister Abraham Gonzalez Uyeda will serve as interim minister.

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