KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The FBI believes a plane that crashed and killed 16 skydivers and their pilot was sabotaged by Colombian drug smugglers to avenge the owner's failure to deliver a $592 million cocaine shipment, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Sunday.
The single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan stalled Sept. 29 three minutes after takeoff from a private airfield at Jenkinsburg, Ga., and nose-dived onto a rural road, killing 16 members of a parachutist club and the plane's owner, David Williams.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board reported last week that the plane had sugar in its fuel system, and the FBI began a criminal investigation.
The News-Sentinel quoted an unidentified FBI agent as saying the plane was sabotaged because Williams did not deliver 880 pounds of cocaine to Colombian smugglers.
'Those Colombians are upset they didn't get their shipment. They wanted to make Williams pay for messing up,' the agent said.
The News-Sentinel said other sources close to the investigation confirmed the anonymous agent's account. The FBI could not be reached Sunday for comment on the report.
The agent told the newspaper that Williams was aboard a plane from which a skydiving smuggler, Andrew Thornton, jumped over Knoxville and plunged to his death when his parachute failed to open.
Thornton's body was found Sept. 11 in the backyard of a home with 79 pounds of cocaine worth $15 million in a duffel bag by his side.
The agent said Williams and Thornton had picked up the 880-pound cocaine shipment in Colombia and dumped most of the drug over the north Georgia mountains before flying on into Tennessee, then Williams successfully bailed out near Knoxville.
'The plan was to drop the cocaine in one spot, bail out in another and send the plane into the ocean,' the agent said. 'When they got on the ground and wee safe, they were to contact Thornton's girlfriend, who was waiting there for them.'
Once on the ground, the pair planned to return to northern Georgia, find the cocaine and deliver it to Colombians in Florida, but Williams fled when he learned of Thornton's death, the agent said. He said authorities were searching the Georgia mountains for the cocaine.
Williams and Thornton, a former Lexington, Ky., narcotics officer, were suspected of belonging to a drug smuggling group called The Company, sources told the newspaper.
'DEA has been watching these boys for a long time but couldn't pin anything on them because they were so good,' the agent said. 'They were in drug smuggling for the kicks. Both of them had money and neither of them used the stuff.'