Wednesday, 7 December 2016

BOLIVIA: LaMia Airlines CEO Arrested Over Plane Crash

The head of the charter airline whose plane crashed in the Andes last week has been detained by Bolivian prosecutors for questioning as authorities look into whether the tragedy that killed 71 people stemmed from negligence.

Gustavo Vargas, a retired Bolivian air force general, was picked up in Santa Cruz along with a mechanic and secretary who worked for him at LaMia airline. All are being questioned about their roles in letting a British-built short-range jet attempt a more than four-hour flight from Santa Cruz to Medellin, Colombia, for which it barely had enough fuel in violation of aviation norms.

Prosecutors said the interrogation was expected to last eight hours and afterward they would decide whether any of the three would be formally arrested. Earlier, authorities raided the airline's offices as well as those of the agency that oversees air traffic in Bolivia.

Authorities are also looking into whether LaMia, which received permission to fly only earlier this year, was favoured by Vargas' son, who headed the office responsible for licensing aircraft in Bolivia's civil aviation agency. After the crash, LaMia had its license revoked and several aviation officials, including Vargas' son, were suspended.

The plane was carrying a Brazilian soccer team to the opening match in the Copa Sudamericana tournament's finals when it crashed outside Medellin on November 28.

Prosecutors from Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia are expected to meet on Wednesday in Santa Cruz to combine efforts in determining the causes of the crash.

One of the six survivors of the crash said on Tuesday that he had been reassured by the airline before takeoff that the plane would make a refueling stop in the Bolivian town of Cobija, as it had on previous flights north.

Meanwhile, an employee in Bolivia's aviation agency turned up in Brazil on Tuesday seeking asylum.

In a document widely circulating in Bolivian media, the worker, Celia Castedo, appears to have pointed out a number of irregularities in the aircraft's flight plan, including not having enough fuel, to LaMia's dispatcher, who was killed in the crash. The authenticity of the document couldn't be immediately verified.