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Search On for Missing Plane, 3 American Passengers in Panama

Authorities were searching Monday for a small twin-engine aircraft carrying three Americans and a Panamanian pilot, after the plane lost contact with controllers.

Air and ground searches were being carried out in heavily forested areas of the western province of Chiriqui, where the plane was last reported on Sunday, said Armando Palacios, regional chief of Panama's civil defense agency.

"We haven't found the plane yet. We have an idea of where it could be, but the weather isn't helping," said agency director Roberto Velasquez. It was raining heavily in the area.

Palacios said the aircraft — which was carrying a U.S. investor, his daughter and a friend — set out from Islas Secas off Panama's Pacific coast and was heading for the Chiriqui volcano, about 285 miles west of the capital.

The flight would normally have taken about 45 minutes, but controllers lost contact with the craft at about noon on Sunday.

In a press statement, Panama's Civil Aeronautics Authority said the plane was operated by Bocas Air Adventure Corp., and that the three passengers — the man, a 9-year-old girl and 11-year-old boy — shared a last name.

The U.S. Embassy in Panama was closed for the holidays, and no embassy personnel were available to confirm the names or hometowns of the Americans.

The pilot was identified as Edwin Lasso, a citizen of Panama.