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Mexican vigilante group leader sustains multiple injuries from plane crash

MORELIA, Mexico--A small plane crash-landed in western Mexico, killing one person and injuring four others, including the leader of a vigilante group fighting drug cartels, officials said Sunday.

Jose Manuel Mireles, a high-profile leader of self-defense forces in Michoacan state, was transferred in a police Black Hawk helicopter to a hospital in Mexico City for security reasons, a federal official said.

Mireles, 55, had been hospitalized with a head injury and dislocated jaw in Morelia, the state capital, after late Saturday's emergency landing in the town of La Huacana, about 145 kilometers from its destination.

The aircraft was traveling from the city of Guadalajara in neighboring Jalisco state to the Michoacan town of Tepalcatepec, where Mireles works as a doctor.

“He has arrived in Mexico City, but it was for his safety,” a federal official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Michoacan state prosecutor's office said late Saturday Mireles was stable and conscious after the plane was forced to land due to a mechanical failure.

The transport ministry as well as state and federal prosecutors are investigating the cause of the accident, said a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Early reports said a Televisa TV network reporter had been aboard the plane but sources at the broadcaster said none of their journalists were with Mireles.

The identities of the other crash victims have yet to be released.

The accident came hours after self-defense forces seized another town in Michoacan, taking over the municipality of Paracuaro and disarming 15 local police officers.

Vigilantes have accused local authorities of colluding with drug gangs ever since civilians took up arms in early 2013 to fight off the violent Knights Templar drug cartel.

But authorities suspect that the self-defense forces are backed by a rival cartel based in Jalisco state, a charge the vigilantes deny.

The vigilante movement has continued to spread despite federal and state government warnings that their expansion would not be tolerated.

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