New Mexico authorities have turned to Arizona for help in figuring out who was flying a plane that crashed recently into a northern New Mexico lake, leaving scattered debris, human remains and bundles of pure cocaine floating in the water.
The general manager of the Prescott, Ariz., airport, Ben Vardiman, said New Mexico State Police called Tuesday seeking information on the plane. He said the aircraft was based at his field, but he had no information on the owner or who was flying it when it crashed Sunday.
Prescott Police Lt. Andy Reinhardt said the plane was one of five stored in a subleased hangar, all of them registered to a man in Caldwell, Idaho. He would not give the man's name.
New Mexico State Police Lt. Eric Garcia would not comment Wednesday on any investigation in Arizona.
Garcia said officials have "strong leads" about who was on the plane when it crashed into Heron Lake.
"We have substantial information that came up, but we're not releasing some of it because that's what might help identify who was aboard," he said.
Investigators have refused to say whether they believe anyone besides the pilot was aboard the plane, which the FAA has identified in a preliminary report posted on its website as a twin-engine Cessna 320. Garcia said he did not know when any identification might be released.
Authorities isolated what they believe was the aircraft on radar and traced the blip back to Prescott, about 100 miles north of Phoenix, said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. No flight plan was filed, he said.
Only a small percentage of the airplane has been recovered, Lunsford said.
"It's still a recovery operation," he said. "It's pretty hard to do a plane crash investigation if the plane's sitting at the bottom of the lake."
Crash investigators need to look at more than one component of the airplane, Lunsford said. "The more of a plane to examine, the more investigators are likely to figure out what happened," he said.
Given the nature of the debris _ the cocaine _ law enforcement also will play a large role in investigating, Lunsford said.
Authorities recovered 23 bundles of the drug. Garcia described the cocaine as pure, packaged in bundles about the size of a tissue box.
However, he has refused to speculate on the purpose of the aircraft's flight, saying authorities would assume only "that a plane crashed and that there was narcotics aboard it."
State police divers found only small pieces of the plane, the largest about the size of a piece of paper, and human remains unidentifiable to anyone but a medical investigator, Garcia said.
The divers searched Heron Lake until Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, only uniformed officers were patrolling the lake's shore, Garcia said.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.