Lockheed L-049 Constellation
Transcontinental & Western Air - (Later TWA) N90819 - ntu
LAV - Linea Aeropostal Venezolana S.A. YV-C-AME
31 Oct 1946
Braniff International Airways N2520B
5 Aug 1955
-wfu at Washington National Airport Aug 1958
- wfu at Dallas Love Field
"Fear" or "Panic" unofficial nicknames (!)
Hubert M. Covert - (Cov-Air Aviation)
" 7 Nov 1960
- Empire Supply Co.
Lloyd International Airways
22 Nov 1960
- co-chairman of the airline was Bolivian tin magnate J. Ortiz-Patino
Hubert M. Covert
" 10 Mar 1961
El Incidente en Bolivia: 30 Jul 1961
Artículo de AviaciónBoliviana.Net
Contrabando aéreo en 1961:
La Verdadera Historia del Avión Pirata
esta curiosa y sugestiva denominación desde hace 45 años es conocida esta clásica e imponente aeronave que no solamente forma parte del ornamento, sino de la tradición de Santa Cruz de la Sierra. En tal virtud, con la premisa de
develar quimeras y especulaciones que desvirtúan este pintoresco pero a la vez trágico suceso de nuestros fastos aeronáuticos se presenta la verdadera historia del “Avión Pirata”.
El resto del artículo en español se encuentra aqui:
The Incident in Bolivia in 1961
The more I look into this, the more intriguing the story becomes and more complex the background history
of this incident is. Who was involved? Political parties? Government officials? Para-military groups, businessmen, an airline? What is known is that large quantities of merchandise were being transported between several countries of South America and Panama
outside of the normal channels of the import/export business and without the usual customs duty and taxes being paid.
The basic facts are these: on 30 July 1961 two F-51 Mustangs of the Bolivian Air Force (FAB) intercepted
a four-engine Lockheed aircraft near Santa Cruz, Bolivia and forced it to land at El Trompillo airport in Santa Cruz. In the attempt to re-direct the flight of the Constellation, one of the Mustangs had crashed in town killing the pilot. The five crew members
of the cargo plane were taken into custody, four Americans (USA) and one Brazilian, and the cargo was seized.
information came to light. From at least May thru July of that year one or more aircraft had been detected coming and going from El Trompillo, usually landing late in the evening and departing very early the next morning. These aircraft were referred to as
the "fantasma" and later the "pirata" because of very little communication, if any, was passing between the aircraft and the control tower or other ground personnel. In fact, upon landing, the aircraft was being surrounded by a group of "para-military"
guards, and any loading or unloading of cargo was done by that same group. Apparently, refueling was done by hand - using buckets.
It seems that this para-military group or militia was under the direction or control of the local
branch of the political party MNR (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement). The co-founder of the party, Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro, was currently President of Bolivia. [I met him in La Paz in 1972 as he was traveling to the USA for medical treatment].
A government official notified FAB that some illegal activities were taking place at the airport in Santa Cruz and two F-51 Mustangs (P-51 in the USAF) were sent from La Paz to the Colegio Militar de Aviacion at El Trompillo. The fighter
pilots had instructions to force the "piratas" to divert to Cochabamba after leaving Santa Cruz, where a military presence would await them.
evening of 29 July, a Lockheed Constellation with the US registration of N2520B landed, unloaded some cargo, refueled and at 06:30 the following Sunday morning lifted off without submitting the usual flight plan and cargo manifest, as if on a "check-out" flight;
but it was fully fueled.
The two Mustangs immediately took off in pursuit and intercepted the Constellation 120 kms. from Santa Cruz. The fighter pilots and the control tower in Santa Cruz ordered the big cargo plane, on the radio
in Spanish and English, to divert to Cochabamba. Their response: they turned toward Argentina. Several passes by the fighters firing their machine guns in front of the Constellation finally convinced them to change course; but instead of heading to Cochabamba,
(and the military reception), as instructed, they turned back to Santa Cruz; they had friends there.
As the three planes
approached Santa Cruz, the Constellation apparently made one last effort to elude its pursuers, and as a result one of the Mustangs, FAB-260, crashed near a major highway in the city, killing the pilot, Captain Alberto Peredo Cespedes.
At the airport the, crew was taken into custody, the cargo plane tires were "deflated", or shot out, to prevent the plane from taking off again and a contingent of troops from Cochabamba had arrived to secure the airport. At first, there
was speculation that the Mustang had been somehow shot down by the Constellation, but no evidence of this was found.
Photo by Rolando Grasso Alfaro
This photo was taken on 15 Sept 1960 in Carrasco, Uruguay and shows four Bolivian Air Force pilots with Tte. Alberto Peredo Cespedes
on the far right in front of the same F-51D Mustang FAB-260 that he piloted on the day he died.
After the incident,
an investigation was ordered by Pres. Paz Estenssoro that led to the arrest of 85 military personnel and the dishonorable discharge of 130 others. The four crew members of the Lockheed Constellation were charged with homicide, piracy, violation of international
laws and the transportation of contraband. Their names: the pilots William Ray Robinson and William Friedman, co-pilot Salvatore Enrique Romano (Brazilian), flight engineer Bertrand Vinson and radio operator Gene Hawkins. For a time the five were held at the
Panoptico de La Paz jail; and then three were allowed provisional freedom and two were admitted to a local hospital under the personal guarantee of the American vice-consul at the time, Samuel Karp.
In Nov 1961 it was announced that the crew had escaped the country. They were
tried "in absentia" and in 1967 the five were given terms of ten years in prison. None of the five has ever returned to Bolivia.
Concerning the plane: on 25 Aug 1961 a local judge assigned a FAB commander as custodian of the airplane and it's contents as compensation for the lost FAB Mustang. The
customs department in La Paz intervened and had the cargo transferred to the customs warehouse in the capital. The merchandise which included cigarettes, whiskey, textiles, nylon stockings, television sets, air conditioning units, etc, had a value, at that
time, of over one million US dollars.
The Constellation remained in Santa Cruz alongside the main runway and next to
the Collegio Militar de Aviacion slowly deteriorating until it was moved in July 1972 to a small park on the Avenida Uruguay in the city. There it was painted as a Pepsi advertisement and later in the colors of the airline AeroSur and was used for a time as
a library, a store, a bank and a tourist agency. The park where the "avion pirata" is located, "Parque Boris Banzer Prada", is sometimes well maintained by the city, and at other times is neglected.
- check the
My first sighting of "El Avion Pirata" 20 May 1971 El Trompillo airport