BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A small plane en route from Venezuela with more than a ton of cocaine on board crashed into the Caribbean on Wednesday after being pursued by Colombia's air force.
That's about the only point of agreement between authorities in Venezuela and Colombia, both of whom took credit while offering different accounts of how the drug run was foiled.
Video released by Colombia's air force shows a Hawker 800 aircraft being intercepted by fighter jets after it entered Colombia's air space around 2:30 a.m. Officials said the pilot then maneuvered in an attempt to escape, but eventually crashed off the coast of Puerto Colombia when one of the plane's motors failed.
Colombia's coast guard said the body of the pilot, whose nationality had not released, was found among the wreckage along with 1.2 metric tons of cocaine up packaged in one-kilogram blocks.
Hours later Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino took to national television in his country to dispute key parts of Colombia*s account.
He claimed the plane landed at a clandestine airstrip in western Apure state shortly after midnight. When the plane took off again a few hours later, Venezuelan jets ordered the pilot to descend, but he refused and shots were fired that hit the aircraft, Padrino said.
He said Venezuelan authorities lost track of the suspect aircraft a short time later near the border and proceeded to alert their Colombian counterparts.
Venezuela has become a key transit country for cocaine produced in Colombia, with several government officials and high-level members of the military sanctioned by the United States for allegedly colluding with drug traffickers. But much of the cocaine moves north to Central America on a dog-legged path to avoid Colombian airspace, which is tightly monitored in cooperation with the U.S.
Since 2013, Venezuelan authorities say they have shot down or neutralized 90 aircraft carrying more than 180 tons of cocaine.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.