ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Experts in Mexico are trying to figure out what caused a plane crash this week that killed one of the country's most powerful men. Juan Camilo Mourino was an interior minister and a close confidant of President Felipe Calderon. He was leading President Calderon's war against the nation's drug cartels. Today investigators ruled out a bomb or engine failure as causes of the crash and they're treating it as an accident. Still many Mexicans speculate that organized crime was involved. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.
JASON BEAUBIEN: The Learjet 45 was carrying the interior minister and the nation's former top drug prosecutor back to the Capital.
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BEAUBIEN: The government released a recording from the air traffic control system which appears to show that the jet was making a normal approach to the Mexico City airport. Then it lost contact with the control tower and disappeared off the radar.
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BEAUBIEN: The jet sped through a canyon of high-rise offices in the posh Lomas de Chapultepec section of the capital before crashing into the street. Flames from the explosion rose several stories up adjacent buildings. All nine people on board and five people on the ground were killed. Juan Barrios Rodriguez works in one of the towers that the jet buzzed just before impact. Barrios says, the debris from the plane was strewn all over the street.
Mr. JUAN BARRIOS RODRIGUEZ (Mexico Resident): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The pieces flew everywhere, he says. There were parts of the plane sticking out of a car. It was incredible. Barrios is also an amateur pilot, he says he has a lot of questions about why this plane crashed so quickly. He points out that it had altitude and speed when it disappeared off the radar. Even with an engine failure, he says, the pilot could have tried to land at a neighboring military compound.
Mr. BARRIOS: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: I think something happened inside the cockpit, he says. That's my point of view. This isn't normal. And that's the point of view of many Mexicans who are speculating that this plane was brought down by one of the nation's drug cartels. Just last week, the government arrested cartel informants who were working in the upper levels of the security forces. There was even a mole inside the US Embassy allegedly passing along information about American Drug Enforcement Agency activity. Whether organized criminals brought down the interior minister's plane or not, there's a widespread belief here that they could have.
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BEAUBIEN: At a memorial service yesterday, the coffins of Mourino and eight others were draped in Mexican flags at a military parade ground. Mourino was President Felipe Calderon's highest ranking cabinet member and close confidant. President Calderon said there will be a full investigation into the crash.
President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: As the president and a friend of Mourino, Calderon said, I have the greatest interest in finding the truth and what caused this to happen. Mexico has brought in aviation experts from the US and Britain to help with the investigation. The transportation minister says the incident is still being treated as an accident but they will pursue all possibilities. Mexico's drug war has claimed more than 4,000 lives this year alone. In May, the head of the Federal police - another close associate of Calderon's was gunned down at his apartment. In a scene that's become all too common, police officers yesterday removed the green, white and red flags from each of the coffins, folded them tightly, and President Calderon handed the flags to the widows and children of the victims. Jason Beaubien, NPR News Mexico City.
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