US probes wreckage of helicopters found in Panamanian jungle
Rio Congo Arriba, Panama, Apr 25 (EFE).- The United States government is looking into the discovery in the jungles of Panama of the wreckage of two helicopters that appear to belong to the Pentagon.
The remains of the choppers lie on the slopes of Cerro Chucanti, at 1,439 m (4,718 ft) the highest peak in the Maje mountains.
In 2003, conservation group ADOPTA Bosque acquired some 700 hectares (1,728 acres) to create the Cerro Chucanti Private Nature Reserve, which draws scientists and ecotourists from around the world.
The climate and the jungle have taken a toll on the helicopters, but it is still possible to make out “ARMY813226” and “cargo compartment maximum capacity 125 LBS.” on one of the fuselages.
“The Embassy of the United States is aware of the two unidentified helicopters that were found last year. We are investigating the matter,” was the mission’s response when EFE asked about the wreckage on Chucanti.
Biologist Guido Berguido, the founder and executive director of ADOPTA Bosque, told EFE that the choppers were on the mountain when the reserve was established in 2003.
“One of the things that really struck me was that we found two helicopters during the first visits,” he said. “It has been quite difficult to know what the history is.”
He adds that according to residents, the “aircraft were here when the first settlers came, more than 30 years ago.”
Questions to the US Embassy and the US military have gone unanswered, Berguido said.
The presence of the wreckage attracts “the attention of visitors, ecotourists, who find it fascinating, above all the mystery about what happened,” he said.
Some speculate about a connection to the US Army’s School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia), based in Panama from 1946 to 1984, which trained more than 60,000 military and police personnel from across the region.
The school’s alumni include notorious figures such as Rafael Videla, a member of the 1976-1983 junta that killed 30,000 people in Argentina; Efrain Rios Montt, who presided over the bloodiest phase of Guatemala’s 1960-1986 civil war; and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.
Another theory centers on the disappearance in April 1985 of a US Navy helicopter with two people aboard. Four years ago, people found aircraft wreckage at Santa Fe National Park in Panama’s Veraguas province.
There are also those who suspect the helicopters that crashed on Cerro Chucanti were used in the December 1989 US invasion of Panama to arrest Noriega, who had been indicted for drug trafficking.
The official death toll from the operation, according to documents declassified in 2019, was 314 military personnel and 202 civilians, while Panamanian sources contend that anywhere from 500 to 4,000 civilians died. EFE gf-bv/dr