Friday, April 6, 2018

FBI offers $10,000 reward for fugitive mechanic wanted in 1996 fatal airline crash

It's been more than 20 years since ValuJet Flight 592 crashed in the Everglades killing all 110 people on-board.

On Thursday, FBI’s Miami Field Office announced a $10,000 reward to help locate an airline mechanic who may have had a role in the 1996 crash.

Ociel Valenzuela-Reyes, who worked for the airline’s maintenance contractor, SabreTech, was criminally charged in 1999 after he allegedly mishandled and packaged oxygen generators that were placed in the plane's cargo space. According to the FBI, the generators didn't have safety caps and ignited the cargo area.

But Valenzuela-Reyes never faced the charges.

“He fled before trial,” said FBI Miami Special Agent Jacqueline Fruge, who has been the primary agent on the case since it began, in a news release.

On Thursday, the FBI announced the reward and shared a new “Wanted” poster including photos from 1996 and images of how he may look today.

Fruge, who has worked with the families of the victims over the years, said in the news release that they “want closure.”

On May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 took off from Miami International Airport heading to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot reported a fire in the cargo area.

Before it could return to MIA, the plane plunged into the Everglades.

According to the FBI, the investigation “proved challenging” because it was hard to identify the remains and the cause of the crash. Two other SabreTech employees were also charged in the criminal case, but were acquitted.

Valenzuela-Reyes, who also faces additional federal charges for fleeing and failing to appear at his trial, has connections to Atlanta, where his ex-wife and kids have lived, and Santiago, Chile, where he has family, according to the FBI.

“We’ve tried over the years to find him,” said Fruge, in the release. “It bothers me. I’ve lived and breathed it for many, many years.”

(Carli Teproff - Miami Herald)

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