Puerto Rico Guard chopper crashes, 6 feared dead

SAN JUAN (BestGrowthStock) – A Puerto Rico Army National Guard helicopter carrying prosecutors on an anti-drugs operation crashed off the north coast of the U.S. Caribbean territory late on Monday and the six occupants were feared dead, authorities said on Tuesday.

The UH 72 Lakota helicopter was on a joint mission involving Puerto Rico police and Department of Justice officials when it came down at approximately 7 p.m. local time about one nautical mile from the coast, National Guard spokesman Major Paul Dahlen told Reuters.

“We’ve found pieces of the helicopter but we’re still searching for survivors,” Dahlen added.

An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the crash. A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Miami said severe thunderstorms were present at the time of the accident.

Puerto Rico Justice Secretary Guillermo Somoza Colombani told a news conference the six on board included two Justice Department officials who were veteran prosecutors with the Organized Crime Division.

The other four were National Guard personnel, three of them crew members.

The mission, which had involved two other helicopters that returned safely, was supporting an anti-drugs operation on the neighboring island of Vieques. It was aimed at arresting island residents accused of selling illegal drugs from their homes in annual illicit sales estimated to total $2 million.

Governor Luis Fortuno declared six days of mourning and ordered flags flown at half mast on government buildings.

The Office of the Governor named those on board the crashed helicopter as National Guard officers Coronel Victor Torres Rodriguez, Sgt. Jose Omar Sostre, National Guard pilots Hector Ramirez and Carlos Acevedo and Justice Department prosecutors Francisco J. Mujica de Leon and Mario Torres Marin.

“These accidents remind us of the sacrifice that these public servants face every day in aiming to keep all our citizens safe,” Fortuno said.

(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Greg McCune)

Puerto Rico Guard chopper crashes, 6 feared dead