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Authorities Study Cause of Spy Plane Crash in El Salvador

August 24, 1985

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ U.S. officials are studying the cause of the crash of a pilotless American spy plane used to gather information on leftist guerrillas for the armed forces.

The 20-foot-long drone crashed Friday in northeast Morazan province, a stronghold for the rebels fighting in the nearly six-year-old civil war.

Meanwhile, guerrillas ambushed a bus in the usually peaceful western part of El Salvador and wounded five passengers, military sources.

The attack Thursday night 35 miles west of San Salvador on the road to Santa Ana was on the fourth day of a rebel-imposed ban on traffic on all highways. The guerrillas had threatened to fire on vehicles violating their order, or to stop and destroy them at roadblocks.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Donald R. Hamilton said the cause of the spy plane crash had not been determined. In Washington, Maj. Fred Lash, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said there had been no indication it had been shot down.

Lash said the plane was an R4E-40 Skyeye surveillance drone made by Lear Siegler Inc. of Santa Monica, Calif.

″At 8:30 a.m. (EDT, or 6:30 a.m. in El Salvador) an experimental remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) being tested by a small team of U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors crashed in an open field about one kilometer (about 0.6 miles) south of San Carlos in the Morazan Department of El Salvador,″ he said.

Lash said there were no injuries or property damage, and that the Salvadoran military had recovered the plane.

Hamilton said: ″The drone was operated by the United States in order to give intelligence support to the Salvadoran armed forces.″ He provided few other details.

However, another official in the region, citing information from the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, said the plane took off from an airfield in San Lorenzo, Honduras, which is on the Gulf of Fonseca.

A U.S. military helicopter was sent from Palmerola Air Force Base in south- central Honduras to retrieve the drone, said the official who spoke on condition he not be identified further.

It was the second reconnaissance craft known to have crashed in El Salvador since the civil war began in 1979. A conventional plane crashed into a volcano near the capital San Salvador in October 1984, killing the four CIA employees.

Officials of both governments give out little information on the flights, but they speak highly of the intelligence they provide.

U.S. officials say this and the growing ability of Salvador’s military to make good use of the information has played an important part in turning the tide of the war in favor of the U.S.-backed government.

Officials say the use of air power and high-altitude photographs makes it harder for the insurgents to operate in large groups.

The Skyeye is capable of carrying several sophisticated surveillance cameras and sensors, including a nose-mounted, high-resolution television camera with zoom lens that gives the craft its name.

Update hourly