The plane carrying Jenni Rivera plunged from more than 28,000 feet and hit the ground in a nose-dive at more than 600 miles an hour, Mexico’s top transportation official says.
Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Mexico’s secretary of communications and transportation, revealed the first detailed accounts of the moments leading up to the crash that killed Jenni Rivera and six other people aboard their Learjet on Sunday in northern Mexico.
According to Ruiz Esparza told Radio Formula the plane hit the ground 1.2 miles from where it began falling, and plummeted at a 45 degree angle.
“The plane practically nose-dived,” he said.
“The impact must have been terrible.”
Ruiz Esparza did not offer any explanation of what may have caused the plane to plummet, saying only that: “The plane fell from an altitude of 28,000 feet … It may have hit a speed higher than 1,000 kph (621 mph).”
Ruiz Esparza said the pilot of the plane, Miguel Perez Soto, had a valid Mexican pilot’s license that would have expired in January.
Photos of a temporary pilot’s certificate issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and found amid the wreckage said that Miguel Perez Soto was 78.
Ruiz Esparza said there is no age limit for flying a civil aviation aircraft, though for commercial it’s 65.
Mexican authorities were performing DNA tests Tuesday on remains believed to belong to Jenni Rivera and the others killed when her plane went down in northern Mexico early Sunday morning.
Investigators said it would take days to piece together the wreckage of the plane carrying Jenni Rivera and find out why it went down.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to help investigate the crash of the Learjet 25, which disintegrated on impact in the rugged terrain in Nuevo Leon state in northern Mexico.
Human remains found in the wreckage were moved to a hospital in Monterrey, the closest major city to the crash, and Jenni Rivera’s brother Lupillo was driven past a crowd of reporters to the area where the remains were being kept. He did not speak to the press.
A state official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said investigators were testing DNA from the remains in order to provide families with definitive confirmation of the deaths of their loved ones.
“We’re in the process of picking up the fragments and we have to find all the parts,” Alejandro Argudin told reporters on Monday.
“Depending on weather conditions it would take us at least 10 days to have a first report and many more days to have a report by experts.”
In an interview on Radio Formula, Alejandro Argudin, head of Mexico’s civil aviation agency, said Mexican investigators weren’t sure yet if the Learjet had been equipped with flight data recorders. He also said there had been no emergency call from the plane before the crash.
Fans of Jenni Rivera, who sold 15 million records and was loved on both sides of the border for her down-to-earth style and songs about heartbreak and overcoming pain, put up shrines to her with burning candles, flowers and photographs in cities from Hermosillo, Mexico to Los Angeles.
Some Spanish-language radio stations played her songs nonstop.
A brother, Juan Rivera, as well as mother Rosa Saavedra, still held on to hope that she would be found alive.
“I still trust God that perhaps the body isn’t hers,” Rosa Saavedra said in a press conference Tuesday, adding that she could have been kidnapped and another woman was at the crash site.
“We’re hoping it’s not true, that perhaps someone took her and left another woman there.”
Jenni Rivera, 43, known as the “Diva de la Banda”, died as her career peaked. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, and had branched out into acting and reality television.
Besides being a singer, Jenni Rivera appeared in the indie film Filly Brown, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and was filming the third season of I love Jenni, which followed her as she shared special moments with her children and as she toured through Mexico and the United States.
The Learjet 25, number N345MC, with Jenni Rivera aboard was en route from Monterrey to Toluca, outside Mexico City, when it was reported missing about 10 minutes after takeoff.
Ruiz Esparza said Mexican officials are investigating why the U.S. plane was carrying passengers between two Mexican destinations, something that’s against regulation. U.S- registered planes can only fly paying passengers internationally into Mexico.
He said the plane’s owner, Starwood Management of Las Vegas, said Jenni Rivera was not renting the jet, but was receiving a free flight because Starwood thought it would promote the aircraft, which was for sale.
That would be allowed under Mexican law, Ruiz Esparza said.
“The Civil Aviation Department has instructions to investigate this point specifically,” he said, adding that he’s also asking other authorities to verify the company’s story about why one of its planes was flying between Mexican destinations.
According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the same plane was substantially damaged in a 2005 landing mishap at Amarillo International Airport in Texas. It hit a runway distance marker after losing directional control.
There were four aboard but no injuries. It was registered to a company in Houston, Texas, as the time.
Starwood has been the subject of a lawsuit and investigations, though none so far have centered on the plane that carried Jenni Rivera.