Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

A Flight Into The Unknown: The Aircraft Accident Involving the Arellanes Clan of La Línea Cartel

"Umbra" for Borderland Beat

Note: This report, submitted by one of our readers, focuses on the 2020 aircraft collision involving the Arellanes clan of La Línea. The background of this story can be read in our previous post hyperlinked here.

The Planned Flight

On Monday June 22, 2020, at 1400 local time, a Cessna 206G with a pilot and five passengers departed Camary, Chihuahua (ICAO: MM13) for Camaguey-Campo, Sinaloa (ICAO: MM52). Some reports state the destination was Los Mochis (ICAO: MMLM).

Either way, the planned distance was around 400 km and required a climb to the southwest over the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, which rise up to 11,500 ft (3500 m) above sea level. The planned flight time was 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The Aircraft

The accident C-206G had serial number U206052005, but published sources mention different tail numbers (registration numbers): XB-PWE and XG-CCC.

When an aircraft is sold, a new registration number can be requested by the new owner and the old number is removed from the registry and becomes available to anyone else who wants it. To simplify this issue, in this report, the accident aircraft is referred to as XB-PWE. Photos or any information about XG-CCC are unavailable.

Image credit: Net Noticias

Image credit: Sol de Parral

This type aircraft is built like a flying pickup. Rugged, with excellent short field performance, it’s a popular working machine. It can be configured with one, two or three rows of seats, or, all seats but the front left can be removed, depending on cargo space needed. They used to say if you could get it in the doors, it would take off.

Maintenance records for the airframe and engine of XB-PEW are unavailable.

There is a large door on the front left side to access the front two rows of seats.

There are two doors on the right side of the aircraft. The front door is located around the 2nd row of seats. It’s hinged at the front like a car door, and swings forward when opened. The rear door is hinged at the rear, swings rearwards to open and is located around the 3rd row of seats. 

The front door has to be open a few inches to get the rear door open. When both doors are open, the resultant opening is about 42 inches (1.1 m) wide. The two right side doors can be seen in the photo of XB-PWE and on the Loading diagram above.

The Flight

There is no information available beyond the fact of:

The Impact

After flight of around 30 minutes, the aircraft crashed near Mariano Balleza, Chihuahua, on the eastern side of the Sierra Madres Occidental.

Official AFAC information is unavailable. Published reports have used incorrect photos and vary as to the exact impact site, but two predominate:

  1. El Rancho Magdalena
  2. El Tule

The Impact Site

These photos show the color of paint on the nose cone (propeller hub) and stripes on the vertical stabilizer (tail) are consistent with earlier photos of C-206G XBPWE.

The Weather

The 18,000 ft (5500 m) Contour Charts show an area of high pressure over the planned route on, left, the morning of the flight at 4.00 AM PST (takeoff was 2.00 PM PST) and, right, the next day at 4.00 AM. The air over the southwest US and northern Mexico looks calm and stable. Typical for the area in June.

Precipitation Chart shows no rainfall along the flight path in the 24-hour period starting at 4.00 AM PST on June 22 and ending at 4.00 AM PST on June 23 2020, consistent with the charts above.

Satellite image from 2.00 PM PST shows no visible moisture along the planned flight route at the time of takeoff.

Precipitation image

Moisture image

The Pilot

Leonilo González Olivas, 38, was from Guachochi, Chihuahua, about 60 miles (100 km) from Mariano Belleza.

Mr. Olivas’ pilot credentials, logged flight experience, flight currency status and Medical Certificate status are unknown.

Leonilo Gonzalez Olivas, the pilot

Autopsy and associated blood and toxicology reports are unknown.

Mr. Olivas posted many online videos flying different Cessna models, including the C-206 and C-207. His videos show he had considerable experience in the mountainous area along of the planned flight route.

The Passengers

The passengers were all close relatives of Idelfonso Arellanes Acosta (alias El Poncho), the head of Los Arellanes, a group allied to La Linea Cartel:

  • Katia Arellanes Santos, 23
  • Idelfonso Arellanes Santos, 14
  • Esmeralda Arellanes Santos, 13
  • Luis Angel Lopez Arellanes, 14
  • Ana Paulina López Arellanes, 12
The victims who died on the plane collision

The three-row seating configuration in this photo is consistent with a C-206G.

The Bodies

Two bodies were reportedly found approximately 1.6 miles (2 km) (30 seconds flight time) from the accident site. Their identification and autopsy results are unknown. No aircraft parts or debris has been reported found in the vicinity of the bodies, or between the bodies and the impact site.

The Investigation

AFAC is responsible for investigating aircraft accidents in Mexico, and publicly disseminating Preliminary and Final Reports to promote and improve aviation safety.

The AFAC website provides Reports just two aircraft accidents in Mexico in the year 2020, but neither is a C-206G. (Source)

In comparison, the US NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) typically issue a Preliminary Report of a civilian aircraft accident within a week of the event. It states the basic facts, and makes no attempt to come to any conclusion.

The Final Report can take up to a year. It assigns Cause, Probable Cause and Contributing Cause/s to the accident. Unfortunately, AFAC has historical credibility issues. It’s not confidence-building.

In 2021, during the FAA’s IASA audit (International Aviation Safety Assessment audit) of the AFAC, several areas of non-compliance with minimum safety standards were identified. 

Subsequently, the FAA downgraded AFAC to a Category 2 rating indicating “…the country’s laws or regulations lack the necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers in accordance with minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures, or resolution of safety concerns…”. (Source)

The downgrade to Cat 2 has prevented all Mexican airlines from adding or expanding routes to US destinations, including from the new Felipe Angeles airport near Mexico City. It also prevents US airlines from marketing and selling tickets with their names and designators on Mexican-operated flights.

In June 2023 the FAA conducted another IASA audit of AFAC. Despite no official announcement, indications are the Cat 2 restrictions will be rescinded this year.

Cartel Involvement

The criminal group Los Arellanes, headed by Mr. Idelfonso Arellanes Acosta (El Poncho), believes that another criminal group, Los Salgueiro, was responsible for the aircraft accident. El Poncho began his career in kidnapping.

Today, Los Arellanes active in Durango, Coahuila, and Chihuahua, and headquartered around Camary, the departure airport. Los Salgueiro are considered the predominant group of the Sinaloa Cartel in the southern region of Chihuahua, as well as in some areas of Durango and Sinaloa.

Los Arrellanes have alleged that Los Salgueiro either sabotaged the aircraft or shot it down with a missile. No verifiable evidence of either accusation has been made public.

The Fuel

The two fuel tanks (9, below) are located at the wing roots. Most of the inside of the wing is empty.

The fuel tanks look like boxes (below).

The Exhaust

The engine’s exhaust tail pipe exits the lower front right side of the engine cowling, just in front of the right-wing strut (red line below), in line with the nose gear and very close to the propeller.

Note: This is not the accident aircraft

The Four Points

An accident is a result of chain of events that wouldn’t have happened if one link in the chain had broken. In an aircraft accident, if the nose, the tail, left wing, and right wing can be identified and pin-pointed, many answers lie inside those four points.

In this case, three points - the nose, the tail and left wing are visible, all in the first photo. Where is the right wing? Wherever it is, it’s certainly damaged, but likely not totally destroyed.

Theoretical Conclusions

Theories are that sabotage or a missile shot down the plane. Without AFAC’s report, everything is speculation. Sabotage is always a possibility. Where the plane was located, and what might have happened to it prior to the flight is unknown. A heat-seeking missile is designed to change course and drive straight up an aircraft’s tailpipe, exploding on contact, or in close proximity before contact.

Whether the engine of XB-PWE sustained a missile strike is unknown, although the first photo shows the prop and nose cone still in place. In this event, with this model, the area of most explosive energy would be on the right front side of the fuselage where the tailpipe is located, very close to the propeller spinning at over 2000 RPM, or 40 Revolutions Per Second. It would fatally compromise the structural integrity of the aircraft, including the right-wing strut. 

The rear of the propeller blades and the right forward fuselage would sustain considerable heat and pressure, the effects of which would be evident in the wreckage. The fuel tank on the right would ignite immediately and add a secondary explosion that would likely kill everyone aboard instantly, if the first hadn’t already.

If the pilot survived the explosion, the aircraft would be uncontrollable. With just one wing, it would likely spin, like a falling leaf, and land relatively flat, as the photos show. The left wing in the first photo shows blackening, and the wing skin looks like it melted in the fuel tank area. 

Despite that fire, the left wing remained attached to the fuselage all the way to the ground, with the propeller and nose cone still in place, and one propeller blade still unbent. Could that have happened to an engine that had sustained a missile strike? A missile is not the only way an explosion could have caused the right wing to separate. It could have been sabotage. 

Explosives could have been placed under the cabin floor near the lower right wing-strut attach point, or inside an inspection plate on the underside of the right wing, inside the wing itself.

A Phillips head screwdriver and five quiet minutes would be all it would take. One thing is certain, without more specifics, the actual cause remains unknown.


  1. Thanks for the story Morogris.
    I'm not aware of any cartel having a heat seeking missile. Planted explosives would be more likely.
    One thing that the article fails to mention is the high winds that occur in the mountains. They can be brutal and often exceed 100 miles per hour and have taken down many aircraft. I would place high winds as the most likely cause of the crash and explosives a distant second.

    1. Mountain weather conditions can be challenging at any time, but Mr Olivas, the accident pilot was based in Guachcochi, at an elevation of 8005 ft (2440 m) MSL, and would have had considerable experience in the Sierra Madres Occidental. Guachcochi is about 60 miles (100 km) from the accident site near Mariano Belleza.

      Weather charts indicate a large area of high pressure over the planned flight track that had been in place for some days. Very high winds are unlikely in this sutuation.

      - Umbra

    2. Umbra:
      I don't live in a mountain zone so I'm not familiar with flying conditions in one. However, I do understand the complexity of flying in the mountains and can make an educated guess.
      An area of high pressure usually indicates lower wind speeds and fewer storms. This doesn't mean that high winds and storms never occur in a high pressure zone.
      Certainly cold air can pool in the valleys of the mountains causing temperature inversions. The warmer air travelling over the lower cooler air can cause a storm. Also, keep in mind that when you travel from warmer air to cooler air, your altimeter reads to high. If he traveled from warmer air to cooler air he was traveling lower than what his altimeter indicated. Clouds can form in a high pressure zone, especially when you have a temperature inversion which occurs in mountain valleys. I'm no specialist in mountain flying. This is just my best guess.

  2. Two bodies were found 1.6 miles from the accident site? So they fell or jumped out before the crash?

    1. Another theory is they survived the crash and went out looking for help but died.

  3. Two bodies were found nearly 2 miles from the impact site. No impact debris was found near the bodies, not was there a trail of debris leading from the bodies back to the impact site. Very odd.
    Injured survivors who expired while trying to walk out of the mountains? Or something more nefarious?

    1. I remember seeing the accident news reporting on TV and one of the reporters said that they believed the two people who died 2 miles away had survived the crash but succumbed to their wounds after going out looking for help. I guess there's ways to check if this version is true or not with stuff like footprints, blood traces, etc. but that wasn't covered. It's an unknown piece right now.

  4. This is really interesting. Detailed and well written. Thanks for submitting, Umbra. Hope to see more of your work in the future.

    1. Thank you, El Huaso.

      There are a lot of unknowns.

      If anyone has specific information (other photos, witness accounts etc) about this accident, please send it to BB.

      Also, anyone professionally trained in portable missile systems willing to consult anonymously could help out a lot.

      Thank you.

      - Umbra

  5. Think it’s one one of those beliefs that comes from paranoia, anger, grief, blood feuds that are all standard features of these kinds of long running wars, and probably isn’t real

    Airplane crashes happen but people tend to ascribe meaning to conspiracy theories and less willing and capable to accept randomness of death

    Fascinating look thanks for article

    1. Makes the most sense,high winds and human error,not missiles,crashes,aliens,flying mountainous areas can be dangerous for experienced pilots,never mind some guy showing off for the kids ?

    2. While were on conspiracy theories I heard Sicario 006 shot down Kobe Bryant's helicopter with a crossbow. Apparently, he was hired by the Celtics. I heard it straight from my cousin's brother-in-law who heard it from his barber, so it must be true.

    3. Yeah, I heard it happened in Detroit, not LA. Must be true.

  6. This is a very well written article. Im going with a MANPAD shoulder fired missile theory.

    1. I don't believe in a MANPAD. There would not be much left of the airplane or there would be thousands of small holes from the splinters. Flight MH17 was a larger AA missile but the splinter effect was very good to see. If it was really shot down then by .50.
      Sabotage is also possible. But I think simply the pilot wanted to show it off in the combination with sudden wind and there you go...
      Strange is that not even the crash site is clear and the aircrafts above are also different.

    2. Your MANPAD opinion sounds knowledgable and informed. Have you received training in this area? Could you elaborate further on your second sentance, please?

      Thank you.


  7. Thanks Umbra. Glad you covered all known angles to this story... i know people had commented in the last BB story that there were so many questions about this. glad to see someone who knows their stuff about aviation.

  8. Very excellent article… reminds me of TWA flight 800 for some reason… #NeverForget

    1. TWA 800 investigation a clusterfuck from the get-go..

    2. Not so. Please read the FAA's Final Report:


    3. Hard to get past the federales' claims that the explosives residues found on wreckage was the result of some gulf war soldier boy forgetting to wipe his feet when he climbed aboard the same plane months (or years?) earlier..

    4. Excellent article, incidentally..

    5. The NTSB report on TWA 800 is 314 pages of science.
      What page is what you're talking about on?

    6. Thank you for the link, lot to read but very interesting. The green squirrel guy should read this.

  9. Nice plane. Poor kids.


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