April 16, 2006

Panama helicopter downs aircraft in drugs chase

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A Panamanian air force helicopter
on Sunday pursued and shot down a light aircraft suspected of
hauling drugs bound for the United States, killing one person
aboard and injuring the only other.

Panamanian officials said the plane was on a runway
preparing for take-off at a regional airport close to the
border with Costa Rica when aviation agents asked its pilot to
remain on the ground.

The order was refused and the plane took off. A Panamanian
helicopter gave pursuit. Shots were fired at the light plane
and it came down in a banana plantation.

Local news media said the two aboard the plane were Mexican
nationals, but officials refused to confirm their
nationalities. It was not immediately clear what type of drugs
the plane was carrying.

Officials were alerted to the plane after local residents
warned of irregular flights from the regional airport.