Dictatorship “death flight” airplane starts flight home this weekend

One of the Skyvan airplanes that was used to throw desaparecidos into the ocean will be flown back to the country this weekend.

A Skyvan aircraft that was used to murder the victims of state terrorism during the Argentine dictatorship will finally be flown back to the country — take off from the United States is scheduled for Saturday. According to official sources, the journey is expected to last approximately five days due to the airplane’s short flight range, meaning it would land some time around late next week.

Economy Minister Sergio Massa confirmed on Twitter that the airplane, which was discovered in Fort Lauderdale back in 2010 by Argentine journalist Miriam Lewin and Italian photographer Giancarlo Ceraudo and later bought by the Argentine state, will begin its journey back this weekend.

“On Saturday, the Short Skyvan aircraft that was used as an instrument of disappearance and death by the dictatorship in the tragically known death flights will depart from the US to Argentina,” Massa wrote. 

“The airplane, which will be set at the [ESMA Museum and Site of Memory] will remain as a testimony for current and future generations about one of the darkest times in our history, reminding us the importance of keeping the claim for Memory, Truth and Justice alive.”

This particular Skyvan flew on the night of December 14, 1977, carrying in its cargo bay Mothers of Plaza de Mayo founder Azucena Villaflor and several other desaparecidos —including French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet, who had been kidnapped at the Church of the Holy Cross (‘Iglesia de la Santa Cruz’) in Buenos Aires and brought to the ESMA. The other passengers were the military men who would push them to their deaths. 

Every week, men and women who had been kidnapped and tortured by the military in clandestine detention centers were selected for “transfer.” After being tortured and imprisoned for days, weeks, or months, they were rounded up, given a sedative shot, and loaded into Navy airplanes at night. From the cargo bay, they were thrown alive into the River Plate.

The Skyvan’s journey

The journey of the airplane will take around five days and make several stopovers due to the airplane’s short flight range, according to ministry sources. It is expected to land in a national airport, at which point the Argentine state will officially take possession of the aircraft. 

On board the plane will be original parts including a sign that used to be next to the door lever, indicating it should never be opened without authorization from the flight’s commander. The sign, together with the airplane’s manuals, were used in the trial against the pilots to refute the claim that they were not aware of what happened outside their cabin during the flights.

The Skyvan will fly to Argentina in its current state —  it has been modified from its original version with updated electronic instruments, new engines, a weather radar, and a new automated system to open the formerly-manual cargo door. Once here, it will be stationed at a hangar provided by the Defense Ministry, where it will be arranged for transportation —including the temporary removal of its wings— to its final destination: the former ESMA property, which has been transformed into the Space for Memory and for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. 

The full ESMA complex is sprawled across 17 hectares in a residential neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but the state-sponsored torture took place in one of the many buildings: the Casino de Oficiales, or Officers’ Quarters. The building later became the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory, which is currently nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald