Questions about the legality of the Learjet flight that cost Latin singer Jenni Rivera and six others their lives when it crashed December 9 began almost as quickly as the accident investigation itself. The 1969 Learjet 25–registered in the U.S. to Las Vegas-based Starwood Management as N345MC–crashed in a mountainous region 70 miles south of Monterrey, Mexico.
Investigators are looking into whether the captain, Miguel Perez Soto, was certified to fly the aircraft and whether it was being used for an illegal charter flight. AIN has learned that Soto was issued a U.S. commercial pilot certificate for foreign-based pilots with type ratings in both the Learjet and the British Aerospace HS125 series. Both type ratings, however, were limited to VFR conditions. The aircraft’s last reported altitude was FL280, which would have placed the aircraft in positive control airspace, which requires an instrument rating. Another limitation notes that 78-year-old Soto was not approved to fly either jet for compensation or hire.
Some sources in the business aviation services industry said Starwood gave the singer the airplane to use free of charge, while some Mexican sources claim it was chartered. AIN could not confirm the conditions under which Starwood offered the aircraft to Rivera.
An FAA official who preferred not to be named told AIN he could not understand why the Mexican Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil has been telling the media the pilot’s credentials were in order when a number of questions persist. There has been no word yet on what Mexican pilot certificates Soto held, although the FAA said the U.S. certificate would have taken precedence to command the N-registered Learjet, even in Mexican airspace.
The NTSB is assisting the Mexicans in the investigation.