Avianca Flight 203
HK-1803, the aircraft involved in the bombing
|Date||November 27, 1989|
|Site||Cerro Canoas, Soacha, Colombia |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 727-21|
|Flight origin||El Dorado Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Int'l Airport|
Avianca Flight 203 was a Colombian domestic passenger flight from El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Cali, Colombia. It was destroyed by a bomb over the municipality of Soacha on November 27, 1989. All 107 people on board as well as 3 people on the ground were killed. The bombing had been ordered by the Medellín drug cartel.
Aircraft and crew
The aircraft was a Boeing 727-21 with registration number HK-1803, serial number 19035, and manufacturing serial number 272. It had been purchased from Pan Am. The aircraft was built in 1966, and had its maiden flight on May 19 of the same year. The aircraft was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7 turbofan engines capable of developing up to 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) of thrust. The aircraft was delivered to Pan Am on May 28, and was registered as N326PA. Avianca purchased the aircraft on November 15, 1975, when it was re-registered as HK-1803.
The captain was José Ignacio Ossa Aristizábal, the first officer was Fernando Pizarro Esguerra, and the flight engineer was Luis Jairo Castiblanco Vargas. There were three flight attendants on board.
Flight 203 took off as scheduled at 7:13 a.m. Five minutes into the flight, at a speed of 794 kilometres per hour (493 mph) and an altitude of 13,000 feet (4,000 m), an explosive charge detonated, causing fuel vapors in the empty central fuel tank to ignite. Eyewitnesses on the ground reported seeing fire erupt out of the right side of the aircraft's fuselage. A second blast ripped the airliner apart; the nose section separated from the tail section, which went down in flames. The wreckage was scattered in a three-mile radius around the town of Soacha. All 107 people on board were killed, as well as three people on the ground who were killed by falling debris.
An investigation determined that plastic explosives were used to destroy the plane. Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, of the Medellín drug cartel, planned the bombing in the lead-up to the 1990 elections, hoping the bomb plot would kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo.:80 One account states that two unidentified men dressed in suits who worked for Escobar carried the bomb on board. The men sat in seats 18A and 18K, located above the main fuel tank. At the last moment, one of the men left the aircraft, while his partner stayed on board and was killed in the bombing. Gaviria was not on the aircraft, despite Escobar's expectations, and went on to become President of Colombia.:81 Two Americans were among the dead, prompting the Bush Administration to begin Intelligence Support Activity operations to find Escobar.:81
Dandeny Muñoz Mosquera, the chief assassin for the Medellín Cartel, was convicted in 1994 in United States District Court of having been involved in the bombing and various other crimes, and was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences.
On November 28, 2016, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador started publishing an investigative report, consisting of 8 chapters, on Flight 203. It argues that the explosion was caused by a malfunctioning fuel pump inside a tank which had been reported several times before. The report was heavily criticized by Avianca and family members of the victims.
In popular culture
The events surrounding this attack was dramatized in Season 1 of the 2015 crime drama TV serial, Narcos. It was shown that the young bomber was in fact also a victim, as Pablo Escobar tricked him under the false pretense of recording a conversation between then presidential candidate Gaviria and other key people. Unbeknown to him, the recorder he received from Pablo was in fact the bomb. While Gaviria and his team did not actually board the aircraft (due to DEA agent Stephen Murphy's intervention at the gate), the boy still detonated the bomb after attempting to record some other key people. To cover his tracks in the aftermath, Escobar had the young bomber's family murdered, leaving behind their infant daughter (later found and adopted by Murphy). 
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- Hoffman, Thomas; Correa, Pablo; Silva, Sergio. "Avianca 203, la historia que nunca nos contaron" [Avianca 203, the story they never told us]. El Espectador (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-04-13.
- Hoffman, Thomas; Correa, Pablo; Silva, Sergio (December 2, 2016). "Avianca 203, la historia que nunca nos contaron. Capitulo 5: El detalle inconveniente" [Avianca 203, the story they never told us. Chapter 5: The inconvenient detail]. El Espectador (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-04-13.
- "Familiares de fallecidos de avión de Avianca, en 1989, responden a investigación de El Espectador" [Family members of Avianca's plane dead in 1989 respond to El Espectador's investigation]. El Espectador (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-04-13.
- Amaya, David (2016-09-02). "Pablo Escobar's Most Savage Moments on 'Narcos'". Complex.com. Retrieved 2020-05-16.