A private plane that was traveling from Venezuela while carrying more than a ton of cocaine crashed off of the coast of Colombia as fighter jets from the country's air force were intercepting it.
The plane — which has been described in reports as either a Hawker 600 or 800 twin-engined aircraft — entered Colombian airspace on Wednesday at about 2:30 AM while traveling toward Central America.
Colombia's military released video showing the plane steadily descend before hitting the Caribbean. It attributed the wreck to motor failure that followed evasive maneuvers executed by the pilot in an attempt to shake off the jets.
Officials did not release the nationality of the pilot, but Reuters reported that his body was found with a Mexican passport. The plane was found to have been carrying 1.2 tons of cocaine in bricks of one kilogram each.
Venezuelan authorities were quick to dispute Colombia's account of the incident.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino declared on television that his forces were monitoring the plane and had ordered it to descend shortly after it took off from an airstrip that was hidden in Apure State, which borders Colombia to the west. Venezuela fighter jets shot the aircraft when the pilot did not descend, Padrino said, and notified Colombia's military after they lost sight of it along the Colombian border. His claim raised the possibility that fire from the Venezuelan jets might have played a role in the plane's demise.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Colombia produces some 300 tons of cocaine every year. The country has been the site of vigorous efforts to curtail the drug trade and eliminate the ability of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — an insurgency known as the FARC that has long been at war with the Colombian government — to profit from it.
In contrast, the coca leaf from which cocaine is developed is not grown in Venezuela, and the drug is not believed to be produced within the country. But the crackdown on trafficking in Colombia has driven drug smuggling to move through Venezuela — US authorities estimate that about 131 tons of cocaine were transported through the country in 2013. Prosecutors in the US are currently investigating high-ranking Venezuelan officials on the suspicion that they have sanctioned the country's transformation into a major hub for cocaine trafficking.