Second Dead Parachutist Helped Make Tennessee Cocaine Drop, Newspaper Says
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The owner of a plane that crashed last week, killing him and 16 others, helped airdrop hundreds of pounds of cocaine with a man who parachuted to his death 18 days earlier, a newspaper has reported.
Colombian drug runners seeking revenge for the bungled Sept. 11 delivery of $591 million in cocaine may have sabotaged David L. Williams’ plane, which crashed Sept. 29 in Georgia, The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Sunday, quoting an unidentified government drug agent.
Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration would confirm the newspaper’s report that Williams had parachuted earlier with Andrew C. Thornton II in an attempt to smuggle up to 880 pounds of cocaine.
Thornton’s body was found in a gravel driveway of a residential Knoxville home with some of the cocaine in a duffel bag around his waist. In his belongings was a key to an airplane that crashed the same morning in North Carolina.
The Sept. 11 cocaine shipment was to be delivered to Colombians living in Florida, said the agent, who spoke on condition he not be named.
″Those Colombians are upset they didn’t get their shipment,″ the agent said. ″They wanted Williams to pay for messing up.″
Williams, an Atlanta real estate developer, 15 other skydivers and the pilot died in the Sept. 29 crash, which the FBI began investigating after the National Transportation Safety Board discovered sugar in a fuel filter of the single-engine Cessna.
″I’d like to know their source so I could assign some agents to check it out,″ said Joe Hardy, an FBI agent in Atlanta investigating the possible sabotage.
″The DEA’s investigation into Thornton is continuing. We’re still pursuing leads,″ DEA spokesman Robert Feldkamp said from Washington. ″However, none of those leads have linked him to the airplane in Georgia.″
The investigation so far has turned up more than 200 pounds of cocaine hanging from a parachute in the north Georgia woods and a bundle of Thornton’s clothes, pilot’s maps and a photograph of Thornton’s plane in a north Georgia pond near the spot where Williams’ plane crashed at Jenkinsburg, Ga.
The News-Sentinel reported Williams had parachuted with Thornton Sept. 11 and left the Knoxville area after hearing Thornton had died when his main chute failed to open.
″The plan was to drop the cocaine in one spot, bail out in another and send the plane into the ocean,″ the agent told the newspaper.
″When they got on the ground and were safe, they were to contact Thornton’s girlfriend, who was waiting there for them,″ the agent said.
Authorities believe Thornton, a former narcotics officer in Lexington, Ky., set his twin-engine Cesna on autopilot and directed it toward its eventual crash site in a wooded area of North Carolina.
Thornton and Williams both attended the University of Kentucky and had parachuted together, but federal investigators have declined to say how much further their association went.