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Bolivian aviation official arrested; plane crash is 'murder'

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Rescue workers look for bodies after a plane crash in the municipality of La Union, Department of Antioquia, Colombia on November 29. An aviation authority official was arrested for allegedly licensing the doomed plane despite circumstances that should have prohibited the plane from taking off, such as not enough fuel. Photo by Luis Eduardo Noriega A./European Pressphoto Agency
Rescue workers look for bodies after a plane crash in the municipality of La Union, Department of Antioquia, Colombia on November 29. An aviation authority official was arrested for allegedly licensing the doomed plane despite circumstances that should have prohibited the plane from taking off, such as not enough fuel. Photo by Luis Eduardo Noriega A./European Pressphoto Agency

SUCRE, Bolivia, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Bolivian authorities said former civil aviation official Gustavo Vargas Villegas has been arrested in connection to the LaMia Airlines plane crash in Colombia in which 71 people died

Vargas Villegas was arrested on allegations he misused his influence to authorize a license for the plane. Vargas Villegas is the son of Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, the general director of LaMia Airlines who was arrested last week following the fatal crash.

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"I am innocent. I did not authorize the operating licenses," Vargas Villegas said following his arrest. His father has also denied wrongdoing.

Celia Castedo, who also worked for Bolivia's Directorate General of Civil Aviation, also faces arrest. She worked on the plane's flight plan before takeoff and warned the plane barely had enough fuel to reach its destination in Colombia.

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Castedo said she was pressured by her bosses to change a flight report she made at the time. She fled the country to Brazil where she seeks asylum.

Bolivian Minister of Defense Reymi Ferreira on Sunday said the crash is murder.

"The murderers are dead but they have accomplices. There are operators who allowed, approved, had not stopped that flight ... who have casually left, escaped and asked for political asylum," Ferreira said during a interview with state-run ERBOL radio.

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Ferreira said there were no mechanical or technical failures in the tragedy -- just the pilot's negligence. Ferreira said the pilot, who was a part owner of LaMia Airlines, also did not immediately reveal that the plane was in an ongoing emergency due to limited fuel to avoid facing sanctions against the company.

The LaMia Flight 2933 charter plane, headed from Bolivia to Medellin for the championship match of the Copa Sudamericana, crashed Nov. 28 into mountainous terrain near Rionegro, Colombia. Most of the victims were members of the Chapecoense Brazilian soccer team -- 19 of which were players and 25 of which were team executives. Six people survived.

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