An OV-10D owned by the US State Department crashed Sunday, September 22, 2003 in Catatumbo in northern Colombia. DOS OV-10s and other aircraft types are used in conjunction with Colombian assets in order to spray coca fields with glyphosate (similar to Roundup weed killer) in order to stop cocaine production right at the source.
The pilot was identified as Marion Alvarado (available reports leave it unclear whether he was a Costa Rican citizen, or a U.S citizen originally from Costa Rica.)
Army Fifth Brigade commander Army Gen. Jairo Duvan Pineda told RCN Television the weather was bad at the time of the crash. He also said that the aircraft had hit trees. Early reports indicated that the plane had been shot down (an occurance which has happened in the past), however Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez told reporters that "Initially, there was talk of the plane being hit, but then those who went to the site said there were no [bullet holes]"..."We are not sure what caused the accident." Numerous State Department OV-10s and other aircraft involved in the anti-narcotics programs have been lost during the past few years due to a variety of problems ranging from hostile action to weather and mechanical problems as well as controlled flight into terrain incidents.
UPDATE 10/8/03: The AP has reported that the National Liberation Army, the smaller of Colombia's rebel armies, claimed on their website that they were responsible for shooting down this OV-10.
Due to the nature of the spraying missions, which typically take place late at night in very mountainous terrain under the guidance of GPS systems and advanced night-vision equipment, the spray planes operate at very low altitudes (sometimes, 100 feet or less) to ensure that the sprayed chemicals will have the maximum effect on the coca plants. Several planes have crashed after hitting trees during missions.
Colombia has several groups which are vying for control of the country, including the FARC and other paramilitary rebel groups, which often fire upon American and Colombian military aircraft. The Colombian Air Force (FAC) operates OV-10s against these groups with great effectiveness, but drug-spraying functions are performed only by unarmed (but heavily armored) American aircraft under the auspices of the US State Department -- which operates them in cooperation with indigenous security forces.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the pilot.