Crashed Plane in Colombia May Be Example of ‘Cloned Craft’

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A small plane that crashed on the outskirts of the Colombian capital had the same registration number as a drug plane seized in Honduras a decade ago — a likely case of a cloned registration. 

The September 22 crash — which occurred shortly after the plane had taken off from the small Guaymaral airport in the north of Bogotá — immediately raised suspicions after two of the plane’s occupants fled from the site before authorities arrived, El Tiempo reported.

The news outlet also noted that the registration number of the plane — HK4669G — was identical to the one used by a Colombian plane that had crashed in Honduras’ La Mosquitia in November 2010. That plane had 500 kilograms of cocaine on board, according to a report in Honduran media outlet Proceso Digital.

SEE ALSO: Cocaine Haul Shows Sophisticated Trafficking Route Through Honduras’ La Mosquitia

Speculation immediately arose that the planes were the same aircraft. But Honduran officials refuted the claim in a news release, saying that the plane seized in 2010 was a twin-engine Piper Seneca, whereas the plane that crashed in Bogotá was a Cessna 208.

In January 2013, the country’s armed forces took control of the plane, and it has remained on a Honduran air base since then, officials said. 

In its own news releases, the Colombian Civil Aviation Authority also said the crashed plane in Bogotá was a Cessna 208, a single-engine cargo plane. The aircraft had been registered since 2009, and it was up to date on its narcotics control clearance and airworthiness certifications.

InSight Crime Analysis

To steer clear of authorities, traffickers often use fraudulent registrations and altered tail numbers to mask drug planes.

According to a source within Colombia’s aviation sector who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the sensitive topic, the Colombian and Honduran planes are different but have identical registration numbers, making it likely the registration was cloned. 

Known as “gemelear,” or “to twin” registrations, the practice consists of copying the number of a registered aircraft on a drug plane, either by painting the registration number directly on the fuselage or using a decal.

The same registration may be used on different types of aircraft or on planes of the same model. In this way, when one is taken out of circulation — either because it was seized or destroyed — the others can continue flying with the same registration number. 

Colombian drug traffickers have employed fraudulent registrations since the 1990s, and the practice has made its way to other countries, including Bolivia and Paraguay.

Trafficking drugs by small plane continues to be a favored method in the region. Guatemala has seen an increasing number of drug flights, and Honduras has found a rash of clandestine airstrips.  

SEE ALSO: Honduras Cocaine Seizures Reveal Renewal of Drug Corridor

Planes commonly used by smugglers include single-propeller Cessnas, which can reportedly carry up to 700 kilos and travel distances of up to 1,000 kilometers on a single journey, and Beechcraft twin-turboprops, which are common on the secondhand market, according to a Forbes report

Jets have also been employed in the trade, albeit far less frequently. In July, a Hawker 700 jet packed with cocaine landed on a highway in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo. 

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