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Jenni Rivera crash investigation focuses on pilots, plane condition

December 12, 2012 | 12:59 pm

Mexico’s Ministry of Communication and Transportation said the two pilots of Jenni Rivera's ill-fated plane, Miguel Perez and Alejandro Torres, had valid licenses to fly in Mexico.

Rivera, 43, a mother of five and master of a growing international business empire, was killed when the jet plummeted 28,000 feet early Sunday morning and crashed near Iturbide, Mexico.

Authorities have said that Rivera’s camp chartered the flight from Starwood Management to ferry her from a performance in Monterrey, Mexico, to an appearance near Mexico City.

PHOTOS: Jenni Rivera dies in plane crash

In a telephone interview from Mexico City, an executive at the firm that owns the plane, Christian E. Esquino Nunez, said that the Learjet 25 was perfectly maintained. Esquino, 50, said he believes the 78-year-old pilot suffered a heart attack or was incapacitated in some way, and that a “green” co-pilot was unable to save the plane.

“We’re all grieving,” said Esquino, who described himself as the operations manager of the company that owned the Learjet 25, Starwood Management LLC of Las Vegas. “I’m definitely very sorry that this happened.”

Esquino said maintenance and safety issues “had nothing to do with the accident.” He said the 1969 Learjet had been based and maintained in Houston for the last 10 years, and underwent a top-to-bottom inspection this summer.

PHOTOS: Jenni Rivera - Reactions to the tragic crash

The same plane, according to U.S. aviation records, sustained “substantial” damage in 2005 when a fuel imbalance left one wing tip weighing as much as 300 pounds more than the other. The unnamed pilot, despite having logged more than 7,000 hours in the air, lost control while landing in Amarillo, Texas, and struck a runway distance marker. No one was injured.

Esquino called that accident “minor” and said the plane had flown without issue for 1,000 hours since then. He said the only conceivable explanation for the crash is that 78-year-old pilot Miguel Perez Soto was incapacitated. He said that while the Learjet was a fine airplane, “it has some critical characteristics.”

“Once it gets out of normal flight mode … it’s hard to recover,” said Esquino, himself a pilot for many years.

An appreciation: Jenni Rivera was a rare voice

Mexican authorities said Starwood Management officials told Mexican authorities that Rivera was interested in buying the plane, and as a result, hadn’t paid to rent it.

Mexican authorities and the National Transportation Safety Board were continuing to investigate the crash “to formulate a hypothesis as to the cause of the accident,” the statement said, noting that the investigation could take nine months to a year to be concluded.

The remains of the passengers that have been found thus far, including Rivera’s, have been taken to the University Hospital in Monterrey, Mexico, where they will be analyzed by forensic experts there, the statement said.

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--Richard Fausset and Scott Gold

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