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Report Plane in Which 17 Died Was Sabotaged By Drug Smugglers

October 6, 1985 GMT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Colombian drug smugglers sabotaged a plane that crashed, killing 16 skydivers and the pilot, because the plane’s owner botched the delivery of $591 million worth of cocaine, a drug agent told a newspaper in a report published Sunday.

David L. Williams, who died when his plane crashed last week in Georgia, had safely parachuted 21/2 weeks before on the same flight as a parachutist who fell to his death here with 75 pounds of cocaine strapped to his chest, said The Knoxville News-Sentinel, which quoted an unidentified government drug agent.

The drugs were to be delivered to Colombian smugglers operating in Florida, the newspaper reported.

″Those Colombians are upset they didn’t get their shipment,″ the agent said. ″They wanted Williams to pay for messing up.″

Joe Hardy, an FBI agent in Atlanta investigating possible sabotage of Williams’ single-engine Cessna, told The Associated Press he could not confirm the report.

″I’d like to know their source so I could assign some agents to check it out,″ Hardy said.

Robert Feldkamp, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, said in an interview Sunday the DEA’s investigation had not found a drug-smuggling conspiracy involving Williams and Andrew C. Thornton, who fell to his death here.

Thornton, a former narcotics officer in Lexington, Ky., died Sept. 11 when his main parachute failed and his reserve chute failed to slow him. A key in his belongings had the same serial numbers as a twin-engine Cessna that crashed in North Carolina the same morning. Authorities believe Thornton put the plane on autopilot before bailing out.

A few days later, investigators found three duffel bags containing more than 200 pounds of cocaine hanging from a parachute in the north Georgia woods. Markings on the bundles linked it to Thornton’s shipment. Williams and Thornton had tossed the bundles, and planned to retrieve them later for delivery to the Colombians, said the agent.

The National Transportation Safety Board discovered sugar in the fuel lines of Williams’ plane, which was carrying members of a skydiving club, and turned the matter over to the FBI.

Feldkamp said it was still not known why Williams, who was notified before the Sept. 29 crash that the plane’s fuel had been contaminated, still allowed it to be flown.

It was previously reported that Thornton and Williams attended the University of Kentucky at the same time and had parachuted together.

Authorities found a bundle of clothes, pilot’s maps and a photo of Thornton’s crashed twin-engine Cessna floating in a pond near Jenkinsburg, Ga., where Williams kept his plane.

The ashes of three of the killed members of the parachuting club were scattered into the wind Saturday in Jenkinsburg as four planes flew in formation to pay tribute to those killed in the crash.

The memorial service was held at the West Wind Sport Parachute Center, a favorite gathering place for many of the victims.

″This week has been an ordeal. All we’ve done is bury people,″ said David Word, a pilot who flew Saturday.