Mothers of Plaza de Mayo reject return of the ‘death flight’ plane

They said the plane, which arrives next week, should be melted down and reshaped

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Association issued a statement rejecting the return of the  ‘death flight’ plane which was used by the last dictatorship to murder victims of state terrorism, including the group’s founder Azucena Villaflor. They requested that the plane be melted down and turned into the shape of a pañuelothe emblematic white headscarf that symbolizes their cause — upon arrival. The plane is currently en route to Argentina from the United States and is expected to arrive next week.

“We reject that the plane used to throw off our comrades Azucena Villaflor de De Vincenti, Mary Ponce de Bianco and Esther Ballestrino de Careaga alive into the water is repatriated from the United States and exhibited in the [former navy school and clandestine detention center] ex-ESMA,” said the statement

The three mothers were disappeared by the dictatorship in late 1977, in an attempt by the military to dismantle the group of women who had gathered to demand information about what had happened to their missing children — an objective that they did not achieve.

“Instead of exhibiting it as a memory trophy, we want it to be melted down and turned into a huge white pañuelo that honors our fight — us Mothers have always been against making a show out of death.” 

The Mothers told the Herald that the statement, published on social media, served as a national communiqué and that all affiliated organizations adhered to it.

Flying the Skyvan back

In 2010, Argentine journalist Miriam Lewin and Italian photographer Giancarlo Ceraudo located a Short Skyvan airplane used in those flights in Fort Lauderdale, US, as part of an investigation in which they found several death-flight airplanes, including four other Skyvans –two of which were destroyed in the Malvinas war– and three Electra models. 

Now, the Argentine government is bringing the plane back to Buenos Aires, where it will stand as a reminder of these horrors. It is expected to land in a national airport, at which point the Argentine state will officially take possession of the aircraft. It will be taken to the ESMA complex, 17 hectares big, located in a residential neighborhood of Buenos Aires where state-sponsored torture took place. The place is now a Site of Memory. 

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, was used in the trial against the pilots to refute the claim that they were not aware of what happened outside the cockpit 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. 

Reporting by Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Agustín Mango


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