LOS ANGELES — As Jenni Rivera’s family plans her memorial service in Los Angeles, Mexican authorities said it could take up to a year to complete the investigation into why her plane crashed last Sunday.
Rivera’s remains were brought back to Long Beach, Calif., on Thursday. But investigators continued to work the crash site trying to determine why her chartered plane went down.
Officials said they are looking at whether the plane malfunctioned and whether pilot error may have been involved, two common paths of inquiry in such cases.
U.S. federal investigators are assisting with the probe, but no details about what they’ve found have been released.
Two police officers allegedly stole items from the crash site.
Authorities told Mexican media that “victims’ belongings” were found at the homes of the two officers.
The Associated Press reported that one of the officers allegedly took graphic photos of the crash site, including of body parts.
Rivera’s plane plummeted nose-first Sunday, 28,000 feet in 30 seconds, leaving its wreckage — and the remains of Rivera and six others — splayed across the side of the mountain like a wash of pebbles.
Rivera, 43, a mother of five and master of a growing international business empire, was killed when the plane crashed early Sunday morning near Iturbide, Mexico.
Authorities have said that Rivera’s camp chartered the flight from Starwood Management to ferry her from a performance in Monterrey, Mexico, to an appearance near Mexico City.
In a telephone interview from Mexico City, an executive at the firm that owns the plane, Christian E. Esquino Nunez, said that the Learjet 25 was perfectly maintained. Esquino, 50, said he believes that the 78-year-old pilot suffered a heart attack or was incapacitated in some other way, and that a “green” co-pilot was unable to save the plane.
“We’re all grieving,” said Esquino, who described himself as the operations manager of the company that owned the Learjet 25, Starwood Management LLC of Las Vegas. “I’m definitely very sorry that this happened.” Esquino said maintenance and safety issues “had nothing to do with the accident.” He said the 1969 Learjet had been based and maintained in Houston for the last 10 years and underwent a top-to-bottom inspection this summer.
The same plane, according to U.S. aviation records, sustained “substantial” damage in 2005 when a fuel imbalance left one wing tip weighing as much as 300 pounds more than the other. The unnamed pilot, despite having logged more than 7,000 hours in the air, lost control while landing in Amarillo, Texas, and struck a runway distance marker. No one was injured.
Esquino called that accident “minor” and said the plane had flown without issue for 1,000 hours since then. He said the only conceivable explanation for the crash is that 78-year-old pilot Miguel Perez Soto was incapacitated. He said that even though the Learjet was a fine airplane, “it has some critical characteristics.”
“Once it gets out of normal flight mode . . . it’s hard to recover,” said Esquino, himself a pilot for many years.
Mexican authorities said Starwood Management officials told them that Rivera was interested in buying the plane, and as a result, hadn’t paid to rent it.