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Crash of US anti-drug aircraft in Colombia kills 4

An airplane on a U.S. drug surveillance mission crashed in northern Colombia Saturday, killing three Americans and one Panamanian, the U.S. military said. Two Americans survived the crash.

The Dash 8 twin-engine propeller aircraft was under contract as part of a counternarcotics operation involving several countries and had flown from a U.S. base in Panama, said Col. Greg Julian of the U.S. Southern Command.

Four U.S. contractors for the Air Force, one U.S. serviceman and one Panamanian were on board. It was unclear which Americans survived. They were flown to a hospital in Colombia.

Julian said the U.S. military credited Colombian search and rescue teams with saving the survivors.

"We express our sympathies to the families of the deceased, and are particularly saddened by the loss of a Panamanian Air National Guardsman,” said Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command. “We also want to thank the Colombians for their outstanding rescue and recovery efforts."

The cause of the crash, which occurred as the plane was returning to base in Panama, was unclear, Julian said.

The United States is Colombia's principal ally against drug trafficking and illegal armed groups, which earn millions from cocaine production and transport, Reuters noted.

Washington also gives aid to Panama, a transit country between Colombia and Mexico for cocaine headed for the U.S.

Last week, a U.S. pilot was killed and his co-pilot injured in southern Colombia while spraying coca plants used to produce cocaine.