(Part IV)

YV-411, airborne over Venezuela.

The sky was growing a deeper shade of blackish-blue as the South American evening crawled slowly along. 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. Consulting the hand-held GPS that accompanied his “cargo” (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. 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. It was going to be a challenge – not so much because of hazards along the way – weather was clear and they’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. There’d be little room for error. 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.  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. Turning to look at his assistant, he instead found himself staring down the barrel of the 9mm…
“¡Cuál es este bullshit?!” he demanded indignantly “¿Quién usted me piensa es, usted idiota?”
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. 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. 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,“Mi amigo, muchas apologías por la recepción” he said, “ Tales medidas son necesary actualmente debido a el policía norteamericano – están por todas partes él se parecen.” He finished the last with a shrug. ‘So that was the way it was going to be’ the pilot thought “Fine, this flight just went up by another fifty-thousand dollars” he said. 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 ‘temporary’ Venezuelan registration markings. 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 – the latter from the smell. He was shown into a tent by the armed leader where an older man of some bearing sat at a folding table. The armed leader spoke briefly to the seated person who nodded and raised an eyebrow while looking in the pilot’s direction.
“An additional fifty thousand you say?” he asked. “Complete this drop and there will be more than that in it for you.” Dismissing the other with a brief wave he turned to the pilot and brought his attention to a map laid out over another table.
“We appear to have a window of opportunity since the American radar planes and their agents are elsewhere for the moment. This chart shows the ground-based radar sites we know of in Colombia and Venezuela – you should be familiar with most of them from your FARC days”
The pilot briefly nodded, for indeed he was, save for a couple of sites he pointed out.
“Those are new sites set up by the Americans in cooperation with the authorities in Colombia – you will note we also have their ranges plotted as well.”
The pilot nodded
“You will fly into the southern interior of Venezuela with your transponder off and avoiding the radar coverage. From there you’ll turn North and try to blend into the traffic headed up to the Lesser Antilles, passing to the east of Isla de Margarita. Here, about 90 miles off Martinique you will rendezvous with a boat, drop your cargo and return the same way to here. We will make another run tomorrow night and maybe the night after, so you will be well paid for your efforts.” The last was said as the pilot opened his mouth to protest. The briefing continued, ignoring the protest that fell away unheeded.
“Use this GPS unit” he slid a large hand-held unit across the table to the pilot “for your route and rendezvous.” He next passed a handheld VHF radio for contacting the boat.
“What about the Venezuelan or Colombian air forces?” the pilot asked “I know they’ve been looking hard for smugglers lately-rumor has it they’ve even shot some down.”
Gazing steadily at him, the other replied “That’s why we hired you. Don’t worry about the air forces – if you are not detected by the radar no one will see you.”
And with that he was effectively dismissed and led back to the aircraft which had been fueled (including the aux tanks) and loaded. The cargo appeared to be properly distributed for weight and balance and he was met in the cockpit by a new “assistant.”
”¿Así pues, otro sitter del bebé para esta pierna del viaje?” he asked with a hit of peevishness creeping into his voice. This was getting old fast.
“No, I’m here to help fly and dump the cargo when it is time” he replied. “I have a few hundred hours in these aircraft” he continued from the copilot seat “and the boss thought you could use some company.”
‘Company’ he thought as he turned his attention back to the task at hand. ‘Just another glorified babysitter to make sure I don’t dump the load and run is more like it.’
“Time to turn north”
Making the course change he did a slow 360-degree turn to check for possible trailers – all clear, so far, and set the autopilot on a course of 005 degrees. The GPS read out the distance – 355.7 nm; to the next point. From there it was another 200 miles to the drop. Doing some quick math after checking the fuel gauges, he made a mental note to re-double his fuel conservation. It was going to be a long night indeed…
To be continued…


  1. SJS,

    Awesome writing 😀 ! Keep this up and I’m going to have to wait until you’re done so I can read it all in one sitting like I did Lex’s “Rhythems” 😛

    Keep up the great work 8) !


  2. sid

    Great story!!!

    There was this time I was aboard one of 3 seismic boats just SW of Jamaica transiting from Galveston to do a survey in Lake Maracaibo, when, in the Dark of Night, alongside came a no lights SH-60 close aboard hailing us on VHF. Guess we did look kind of odd; kinda like 3 AGI’s in loose column I s’pose. Never saw a thing on radar other than the helo….

    Not condoning anything here, just passing along a flying story from the other side of the looking glass

    I just know there are better places to be than wiling away scores of months during an extended stay at Saufley….

  3. Michelle

    I gotta agree SJS. This is turning into quite the story. 😎
    Perhaps we will have to start suggesting publication to you too soon.
    Oh yeah, one other thing, the installment pieces need to come a wee bit faster. 🙂

  4. Steeljawscribe

    What was it Gallo used to say — we will sell no wine before it’s time? 😉

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