Five armed men broke into a military base at the major international airport in northern Honduras early Monday and made off with a small airplane that authorities seized last year in an anti-drug operation.
The theft occurred at La Mesa International Airport in San Pedro Sula, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the capital, Tegucigalpa. The airport is one of the busiest in the country.
Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said the gunmen attacked three guards at the entrance gate, went to the military hanger near a runway, started the engine and flew away. Their identities and destination were unknown.
"It was a very professional operation," Alvarez said during a news conference.
The plane had been in custody at the military base while the government was deciding whether to donate it to a state agency.
"It was really a temptation for organized crime or drug traffickers to have the plane there," said Alvarez.
The theft was reported around 3 a.m. to police. Armed forces command officers formed a commission to investigate the incident and the base commander was suspended indefinitely, according to the vice minister of security, Armando Calidonio.
"We are fighting a struggle against organized crime and drug trafficking," Alvarez said. "We always expect the worst."
Honduras is experiencing a wave of violence unleashed by gangs that are financed by drug trafficking and other crimes. According to the government, nearly 800 tons of cocaine each year passes through Honduras from Colombia to the United States.