CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - A plane crash near the Columbia-Panama border killed an American, and blew the cover on a drug surveillance operation run by a U.S. government contractor, the victim's daughter claims in Federal Court.
Jennifer Moore sued the United States of America, Sierra Nevada Corporation and New Frontier Innovations LLC for the estate of her father, Ralph James Dietz.
"Decedent was employed by Sierra Nevada and/or New Frontier as a part of an intelligence operation called 'Prospector,' a privatized United States counter drug-mission based in Panama operated on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the United States of America. ... New Frontier provided pilots and crews for Sierra Nevada's 'Prospector' mission," according to the complaint.
Dietz was on Sierra Nevada's spy plane the night of Oct. 5, 2013, when the pilot lost control and crashed into mountainous jungle at the border of Panama and Columbia, Moore says in the lawsuit.
"On or before the impact, the fuselage of the airplane ignited, burning the decedent's body," the complaint states.
Dietz was 66.
Moore claims New Frontier's pilot was blind in one eye and unqualified to fly the "modified" aircraft, which was loaded with surveillance equipment.
While the complaint gives no details about Dietz's role in the operation, Moore's attorney told Courthouse News that Dietz was conducting surveillance when the plane went down.
Sierra Nevada Corp., based near Reno, Nev., did not return a phone call and email seeking comment, and nobody answered the number listed for Virginia-based New Frontier Innovations.
Two other Americans and a Panamanian died in the crash, according to investigative reporter Aram Roston.
Operation Prospector was launched by a secret branch of the U.S. Air Force called "Big Safari" that granted Sierra Nevada a no-bid contract to track drug smuggling boats leaving Columbia, Roston reported for Vocativ.com.
Moore seeks damages for wrongful death and the "eternity of pain" her father suffered in the fiery crash before he died.
She is represented by John Curney with Curney, Farmer, House and Osuna of San Antonio.