US anti-drugs plane shot down, pilot killed

A United States drug fumigation plane was shot down by rebels in north-eastern Colombia today and its Colombian pilot was killed, police said.

The single-engine T-65 Turbo Thrush plane came under heavy gunfire near the town of El Tarra, 290 miles north-east of Bogota, while it was fumigating coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, said Colonel Henry Gamboa, head of the eradication unit of the Colombian Counter-narcotics Police.

“There were several bullet-holes in the plane,” he said.

The US Embassy said the pilot died while being taken to a hospital. The embassy is investigating the crash.

The plane was owned by the US State Department, said Gregory Lagana, spokesman for Dyncorp, a US company paid by the State Department to fumigate coca crops in Colombia. Lagana declined to say who the pilot worked for.

The US funds the aerial fumigation of coca in Colombia, the world’s main source of cocaine.

Leftist rebels who control a large share of cocaine production in Colombia have shot at the fumigation planes in the past, killing several pilots since 2000, when Washington launched the multi-billion-dollar Plan Colombia, aimed at wiping out drug production in Colombia and at hitting the rebels.

In addition, three US military contractors were kidnapped by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 2003 when their single-engine plane crash-landed in a rebel stronghold after its engine failed. The FARC is holding the three as prisoners of war.

A fourth American and a Colombian soldier aboard the plane were executed by the rebels at the crash site.

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