Doctor Jose Manuel Mireles, leader and coordinator of several self-defense groups, is carried in a stretcher as he arrives at a hospital in the city of Morelia, Mexico, early Sunday Jan. 5, 2013. Mireles was badly injured when a single engine aircraft in which he was traveling crashed near the town of La Huacana. Mireles has been coordinating the efforts of several self-defense groups who are trying to get the Knight Templars drug cartel out of the state of Michoacan. (AP Photo/Agencia Esquema)
MORELIA, Mexico — A small plane crashed in western Mexico, killing one man and injuring four other people, including an outspoken doctor who leads a vigilante group, authorities said Sunday.
The prosecutor’s office in Michoacan state said it is investigating what it described as an accident caused by a mechanical failure. The Mexican attorney general’s office also launched a probe into the cause of the crash.
The four injured passengers included Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, a key leader of an armed effort by residents to force drug gangs out of their communities. An unidentified man died at a hospital.
The crash quickly spread fear among other vigilantes and residents in western Mexico because it came hours after one of the groups seized a Michoacan town, sparking a shootout that killed a man.
Magdalena Guzman, spokeswoman of Michoacan attorney’s office, said the plane took off from Guadalajara on Saturday afternoon and was logged to land in the rural community of Tepalcatepec, where Mireles works as a doctor and heads a group of armed citizens standing up to the Knights Templar cartel.
Guzman said it is unclear why the plane went down in the town of La Huacana, about 90 miles further south and east from the planned destination.
“They may have changed their path after taking off,” Guzman said.
Mireles was flown with a head injury and a dislocated jaw to Michoacan’s capital of Morelia, where he was reported in stable condition. Two other men and a woman were also injured in the crash.
Mireles had lived 10 years with his family in Modesto, Calif., where he volunteered for the Red Cross before returning to his native Michoacan.
He has scored some victories in a 10-month effort to kick out the Knights Templar from the lime-growing valley that surrounds Tepalcatepec. Aligned with other self-defense groups, his men have taken control of some towns and expelled drug traffickers who kidnap and extort people to make money.
On Saturday, more than 100 vigilantes arrived at the town of Paracuaro in pickup trucks and SUVs and erected a checkpoint at the main entrance. They disarmed some police officers out of suspicion they were working with traffickers.
Michoacan authorities say a man was killed in a gun battle after the vigilantes seized the town. The man has not been identified as a member of either a drug cartel or a self-defense group.