An ultralight aircraft crashed early Monday morning on State Route 82 east of Nogales city limits, and its undocumented pilot was arrested soon after fleeing the scene, authorities said.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office received a call shortly after midnight that day reporting that a “small aircraft” had fallen on SR 82 near the Nogales Suburban Fire District Station and was blocking the roadway.
“Apparently it was one of those ultralight aircrafts that smugglers use,” Sheriff Antonio Estrada told the NI on Wednesday.
Estrada added that the U.S. Border Patrol had already been tracking the aircraft, and agents were on scene when sheriff’s deputies arrived in response to the call.
According to a news release issued Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, personnel operating surveillance equipment detected an unknown aircraft just north of the U.S.-Mexico border shortly after 11 p.m. on Sunday.
CBP helicopter crews were deployed to search for the aircraft, while Border Patrol agents followed its path from the ground.
“For nearly an hour, CBP agents tracked and followed the (ultralight) until it made an improvised landing along State Route 82 near Kino Springs,” the news release said. “When Border Patrol agents reached the location of the aircraft, it appeared damaged from the landing, and abandoned by its pilot.”
Agents ultimately found the pilot, a 39-year-old Mexican national who was in the country illegally, hiding in a nearby wash.
CBP did not mention the pilot’s physical condition, but a sheriff’s incident report stated that “Nogales Border Patrol located the pilot at 1:12 a.m. and requested a medical welfare check.”
Medical responders with the Nogales Suburban and Rio Rico fire districts were initially dispatched to the scene as precautionary measures, as well as troopers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to redirect traffic.
“As far as I know, we don’t know what it had,” Estrada said of the plane’s cargo.
CBP did not mention the discovery of any narcotics on the aircraft, saying only that the pilot was being held for immigration violations.
On May 23, Nogales-based Border Patrol agents teamed up with counterparts from Tucson to track and seize a modified ultralight aircraft and its cargo of nearly 150 pounds of methamphetamine and fentanyl after it flew across the border from Mexico and landed in the Southern Arizona desert. No arrests were made in connection with that seizure.