US team looks into air crash that killed a Paraguayan presidential contender

Oviedo was returning from a campaign rally when his helicopter went down

Madrid -
Supporters of Lino Oviedo hold a banner outside a morgue that reads: "Until forever my general."
Supporters of Lino Oviedo hold a banner outside a morgue that reads: "Until forever my general."AP

Investigators on Wednesday continued to search through the wreckage from a helicopter crash that killed a leading Paraguayan presidential candidate as he was returning home from a campaign rally on Saturday.

Experts from the United States were expected to arrive in Asunción late on Wednesday to help Paraguayan officials determine the causes of the air crash that killed Lino Oviedo, 69, his pilot and a bodyguard.

Meanwhile, a memorial service for the retired general was held at Oviedo's National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNACE) party, where supporters filed past his closed coffin.

Three prosecutors, who have taken over the investigation, were also trying to determine whether the commercial pilot, Ramón Picco, had a license to fly a private craft.

Oviedo was instrumental in the 1989 military coup that ended the nearly 35-year-old dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner and brought democratic rule to landlocked Paraguay. Coincidentally, Oviedo died on the same day of Stroessner's ouster.

He was very cautious; he didn't want to fly" The pilot's wife

President Federico Franco told CNN en Español on Tuesday night that "meteorological conditions" appear to have been the causes for the crash. "The theory that it was an attack is not really the principle hypothesis we are concentrating on, but the Public Prosecutor's Office is open to all possibilities," Franco explained.

Oviedo was a candidate in the April presidential elections for the UNACE, the country's third-largest opposition party, which he founded more than 10 years ago. Defense Minister María Liz García said that residents in the Presidente Hayes department, in the southwest part of the Andean nation, heard a single explosion late Saturday.

"The aircraft disintegrated and, out of respect to the families of the victims, I won't release details about the bodies," she said.

Forensic investigator Pablo Lemir said that Oviedo's remains were identified but couldn't be turned over immediately to his family for burial because they were still waiting to formally identify the other two victims.

Oviedo's two sons were given his remains on Tuesday night.

A team from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will work with members of Paraguay's armed forces and the Paraguay Civil Aviation Authority (CIPAA) to search for clues over the causes of the Robinson R44 II helicopter crash.

According to a NTSB release, senior investigator Paul Cox will lead a team of representatives from the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, Robinson Helicopters and Lycoming Engines.

CIPAA director Carlos Fugarazzo told the country's official IP Paraguay news agency that the Americans had been called in to ensure transparency in the investigation. "Many people over here have already made up their minds, so there is a need for transparency so that we can find out the truth," Fugarazzo said.

The pilot's wife, Rosilene Fernández, said that her husband didn't want to fly that evening. "They insisted that my husband fly. As of now I don't know what happened; he was very cautious; he didn't want to fly," Fernández told the E'a news portal.

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