Owner’s Past, Pilot’s Age Raise Suspicion in Rivera Learjet Crash

The 1969 Learjet 25 that crashed in the early morning of December 9, killing singer Jenni Rivera and six others, was owned by Las Vegas-based Starwood Management LLC. But the company said the fatal flight was not a charter. Rather, it was described as a final demonstration flight in anticipation of Rivera purchasing the jet for $250,000.

At the controls were 78-year-old Miguel Perez Soto, PIC, and a “green” copilot, Alejandro Torres. Investigators are focusing on the separate possibilities of mechanical failure and pilot incapacitation. Reports say 10 minutes into the flight from Monterrey, Mexico, to Toluca, the twinjet descended from 28,000 feet to the ground in 30 seconds, traveling only 1.5 miles laterally from the start of the descent to the point of impact.

Of deep interest is the background of Starwood and one of its principles. In a telephone interview with The Los Angeles Times, Starwood operations manager Christian Esquino Nunez said, “Obviously, my past – there is a story to it. It’s unavoidable that they are going to look at my past … I think it’s fair to bring it up right now and question it.”

Esquino referred to his decades-long record of bankruptcies, restraining orders, civil judgments, a drug trafficking conviction and criminal charges for falsifying logbooks and other records involved in aircraft sales. He spent two years in a U.S. federal prison after a 2005 conviction on the aviation-related charges. Starwood lists Esquino’s sister-in-law Norma Gonzalez as its only corporate officer, but Esquino, told the newspaper, “I’m the one with the expertise.”

Starwood was formed in 2007 shortly after Esquino was released from prison and deported. San Diego attorney Joseph Milchen, who has represented Esquino over the years described him as, “ … a very likable person.”

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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