Three months later, “El Chapo” still at large, but pilot accused of playing role in escape now in custody
MEXICO — Three months later, “El Chapo” remains at large.
But a pilot accused of playing a role in the drug lord’s escape is in Mexican custody, Mexico’s attorney general said Thursday.
Attorney General Arely Gomez said at a Mexican Senate hearing that the pilot had been captured. But she didn’t offer details — including the name of the pilot and where, when or how he or she was caught.
Thursday was the first time Mexican authorities have said anything publicly about a pilot having a part in springing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Gomez said 24 people, all but one of them government employees, have been arrested in connection with the July 11 escape. Ten other civilians have been detained.
In addition, authorities have conducted 40 inspections, crafted 522 documents and collected 191 pieces of evidence from the tunnel — which had lights, ventilation and led directly to his cell — that Guzman used to bust out of a maximum-security prison.
Authorities haven’t said if any of this investigative work has led them closer to Guzman.
He got out by crawling through a 20-by-20-inch opening inside the shower of his cell, Mexican National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido has said. The opening connected to a vertical passageway that was outfitted with a ladder and led to a tunnel that was about 5.6 feet tall and more than 28 inches wide.
The tunnel had tracks for a modified motorcycle, suggesting Guzman may have ridden for more than a mile before the tunnel’s end in a half-built house. From there, it’s not clear where Guzman went — though Gomez’s comments Thursday indicate that, somewhere along his escape route, a pilot flew him farther from the prison.
The break-out spurred widespread criticism of Mexico’s ability to handle high-profile criminals, with some pointing to issues with corruption and the power wielded by drug cartels in the country.
It also angered many in Washington, given that many of those held were also wanted in the United States for their role in the drug trade. In fact, last month the Mexican government began extraditing major alleged drug cartel suspects — including Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as “La Barbie” — to face justice in the United States, U.S. officials said.
Guzman’s escape stung even more for Mexico, given that he’d escaped from prison before.
Nicknamed “Shorty” for his height, Guzman broke free from a maximum-security prison in 2001 while reportedly hiding in a laundry cart.
It took authorities 13 years to catch him again, as he was sleeping at a Mexican beach resort.