Paraguay cabinet minister among 4 killed in plane crash

Paraguay’s agriculture minister, his vice-minister and two others were killed overnight when their small plane crashed in a marshy area south of the capital.

Remnants of the aircraft, a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron, were found Thursday morning in a swamp six kilometers (3.72 miles) from the airport in the city of Ayolas after a 14-hour search, Luis Aguirre, head of the National Directorate of Civil Aviation, told Paraguay’s national radio.

“I had to inform the president of the passing of the four occupants of the aircraft,” said Joaquin Roa, head of the National Emergency Secretariat.

Aboard the aircraft were Agriculture Minister Luis Gneiting, Vice Minister Vicente Ramirez, civil servant Luis Charotti and pilot Gerardo Lopez.

“There are no survivors,” Roque Gonzalez, a member of a search and rescue unit, told local media.

Contact was lost with the plane, which was heading to the capital, Asuncion, minutes after it took off Wednesday at 6:20 p.m.

“It happened very fast. You can see on the camera that only two or three minutes passed between the takeoff and the crash,” Aguirre said.

Ruben Aguilar, administrator of the National Civil Aviation Directorate, said on local radio that four bodies had been discovered by rescuers.

“The air force will be transporting the bodies to Asuncion’s judicial morgue, where forensics will work to identify them,” he said.

Some officials said they had escaped their fate as Gneiting had offered them two empty seats to fly back to the capital but they had declined due to previous engagements.

“I always travel with them. But yesterday, I stayed to attend to some business in the region. The minister had it all planned out for this week, but God did not want it that way,” Fredis Estigarribia, president of the National Service for Animal Health and Quality, told local radio.

Gneiting, 50, a veterinarian by training, had been governor of Itapua Department, one of Paraguay’s soy-producing regions. He had also unsuccessfully run for vice-president in the April 2018 presidential election under the Partido Colorado banner, the Conservative party now in power.

Senator Javier Zacarias announced the country would observe a three-day period of national mourning starting on Monday, July 30.

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