YV-411, airborne over Venezuela.
The sky was growing a deeper shade of blackish-blue as the South American evening crawled slowly along.Â The shock of having the business end of a 9mm pointed at his head had begun to subside as he went about the business of flying the Beechcraft.Â Consulting the hand-held GPS that accompanied his â€œcargoâ€ (several bales of cocaine paste and a co-pilot to assist him on this leg of the flight) he cross-referenced it with a chart that had neat circles drawn, indicating ground-based radar coverage.Â Their planned route took the flight deep into the interior of Venezuela before turning north to exit the coast and fly up the Lesser Antilles to the rendezvous/drop point before returning along a similar route.Â It was going to be a challenge â€“ not so much because of hazards along the way â€“ weather was clear and theyâ€™d be above any mountains, but because the distances involved would leave his tanks almost dry by the time they returned to the remote landing strip in Colombia.Â Thereâ€™d be little room for error.Â Glancing back over his shoulder, he caught the last vestiges of the sun as it dipped below the horizon and thought back to the encounter.
The landing had been accomplished with a minimum of fuss.Â Â As the props came to a halt a couple of trucks emerged from the woods and came to a halt by the aircraft, with one circling around to the back. Out of their beds sprang groups of men in fatigues and automatic weapons who proceeded to form a circle around the aircraft.Â Turning to look at his assistant, he instead found himself staring down the barrel of the 9mmâ€¦
â€œÂ¡CuÃ¡l es este bullshit?!â€ he demanded indignantly â€œÂ¿QuiÃ©n usted me piensa es, usted idiota?â€
The assistant just motioned him to the rear door by waving the gun, languidly at first and then with a little more energy when he was slow to acknowledge the command.Â Opening the hatch he stepped out of the aircraft into the humid jungle air and was met by a small knot of men, all bearing automatic weapons.Â A medium height, non-descript individual detached himself from the group and approached him.
As the pilot started to protest his treatment, the other held up a hand, waving it and saying,â€œMi amigo, muchas apologÃas por la recepciÃ³nâ€ he said, â€œ Tales medidas son necesary actualmente debido a el policÃa norteamericano – estÃ¡n por todas partes Ã©l se parecen.â€ He finished the last with a shrug.Â â€˜So that was the way it was going to beâ€™ the pilot thought â€œFine, this flight just went up by another fifty-thousand dollarsâ€ he said.Â The other started to say something but just shrugged and motioned with his weapon to follow him.
As he left a couple of others went to work on the side of his aircraft, covering the Colombian registry with white adhesive prepatory to applying â€˜temporaryâ€™ Venezuelan registration markings.Â Following the armed band he went deeper into the jungle until they came to an area that was obviously part operations base and part chemical processing plant â€“ the latter from the smell.Â He was shown into a tent by the armed leader where an older man of some bearing sat at a folding table.Â The armed leader spoke briefly to the seated person who nodded and raised an eyebrow while looking in the pilotâ€™s direction.
â€œAn additional fifty thousand you say?â€ he asked.Â â€œComplete this drop and there will be more than that in it for you.â€Â Dismissing the other with a brief wave he turned to the pilot and brought his attention to a map laid out over another table.
â€œWe appear to have a window of opportunity since the American radar planes and their agents are elsewhere for the moment.Â This chart shows the ground-based radar sites we know of in Colombia and Venezuela â€“ you should be familiar with most of them from your FARC daysâ€
The pilot briefly nodded, for indeed he was, save for a couple of sites he pointed out.
â€œThose are new sites set up by the Americans in cooperation with the authorities in Colombia â€“ you will note we also have their ranges plotted as well.â€
The pilot nodded
â€œYou will fly into the southern interior of Venezuela with your transponder off and avoiding the radar coverage.Â From there youâ€™ll turn North and try to blend into the traffic headed up to the Lesser Antilles, passing to the east of Isla de Margarita.Â Here, about 90 miles off Martinique you will rendezvous with a boat, drop your cargo and return the same way to here.Â We will make another run tomorrow night and maybe the night after, so you will be well paid for your efforts.â€Â The last was said as the pilot opened his mouth to protest.Â The briefing continued, ignoring the protest that fell away unheeded.
â€œUse this GPS unitâ€ he slid a large hand-held unit across the table to the pilot â€œfor your route and rendezvous.â€ He next passed a handheld VHF radio for contacting the boat.
â€œWhat about the Venezuelan or Colombian air forces?â€ the pilot asked â€œI know theyâ€™ve been looking hard for smugglers lately-rumor has it theyâ€™ve even shot some down.â€
Gazing steadily at him, the other replied â€œThatâ€™s why we hired you.Â Donâ€™t worry about the air forces â€“ if you are not detected by the radar no one will see you.â€
And with that he was effectively dismissed and led back to the aircraft which had been fueled (including the aux tanks) and loaded.Â The cargo appeared to be properly distributed for weight and balance and he was met in the cockpit by a new â€œassistant.â€
â€Â¿AsÃ pues, otro sitter del bebÃ© para esta pierna del viaje?â€ he asked with a hit of peevishness creeping into his voice.Â This was getting old fast.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m here to help fly and dump the cargo when it is timeâ€ he replied.Â â€œI have a few hundred hours in these aircraftâ€ he continued from the copilot seat â€œand the boss thought you could use some company.â€
â€˜Companyâ€™ he thought as he turned his attention back to the task at hand.Â â€˜Just another glorified babysitter to make sure I donâ€™t dump the load and run is more like it.â€™
â€œTime to turn northâ€
Making the course change he did a slow 360-degree turn to check for possible trailers â€“ all clear, so far, and set the autopilot on a course of 005 degrees.Â The GPS read out the distance â€“ 355.7 nm; to the next point.Â From there it was another 200 miles to the drop.Â Doing some quick math after checking the fuel gauges, he made a mental note to re-double his fuel conservation.Â It was going to be a long night indeedâ€¦
To be continuedâ€¦
Article Series - Reflections: Smuggler's Blues
- Reflections: Smugglerâ€™s Blues (I)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (II)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (III)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (IV) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (V) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VI) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VII) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (VIII)-Convergence
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (IX)-Conclusion