The Hijacking of Flight 601’s True Story, Explained

Netflix’s ‘The Hijacking Of Flight 601’, created by Pablo Gonzalez and C.S. Prince, depicts the actual hijacking incident involving the HK-1274 passenger aircraft, known as Flight 601. Regarded as one of the longest hijackings in Latin American history, spanning three days, it put the lives of over 80 passengers and crew members in jeopardy. What remains most puzzling about the hijacking is its unconventional conclusion, the involvement of real individuals in the narrative, and the courageous acts of those who risked their lives to protect others. It’s a tale of ordinary people displaying extraordinary heroism and is a source of inspiration.

Why was Flight 601 Hijacked?

The story of Flight 601 commenced on May 30, 1973, when the Sociedad Aeronáutica de Medellín, commonly referred to as SAM, departed from Bogota, Colombia, and touched down in Cali. Following its initial stopover, the aircraft proceeded towards Pereira, where additional passengers boarded. However, once the flight was airborne, two individuals situated in the rear of the plane rose from their seats, brandishing firearms, and declared the hijacking of the aircraft. They were wearing silver masks. The taller of the two hijackers then entered the cockpit and compelled Captain Jorge Lucena to redirect the plane to Aruba.

Upon arrival in Aruba, the hijackers stated their demands, which included requesting $200,000 in cash and the liberation of a large group of political detainees held in Socorro, Colombia. They identified themselves as members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist guerrilla group and insurgent organization based in Colombia. The hijackers threatened the crew members with bombs and even made the captain touch some of the ammunition that was in his bag.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Latin America experienced a surge in plane hijackings, reflecting the broader global trend of increased aviation-related terrorism during this period. Notable examples include the hijacking of LANSA Flight 502 in 1966 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the hijacking of Copa Airlines Flight 713 in 1971 by members of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). Despite the Colombian government’s refusal to negotiate with terrorists regarding the hijacking of Flight 601, airline lawyer Ignacio Mustafa engaged in negotiations, offering the hijackers $20,000, which they rejected. At the same time, the news of the hijacking was being covered extensively, and the hijackers let go of some 40 passengers to get some good press.

The hijackers demanded that the plane be flown to Lima in Peru, but due to fuel shortages, the plane landed back in Aruba. The hijackers attempted to fly the plane away for a second time, but once again, they were forced to return to Aruba due to the unavailability of landing space at other airports. During this third landing, Aruban authorities insisted on a change of crew, as the existing crew had been awake for over 24 hours, posing a significant safety risk if they were to continue flying in an exhausted state. The authorities agreed to send $50,000 to the new captain who would be boarding the plane.

Among the new crew members were flight attendant Edilma Pérez, a 32-year-old single mother of five who volunteered for the task, and her trusted friend, 23-year-old María Eugenia. With only 23 passengers remaining on board, the hijackers demanded that the flight be rerouted to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where it was refueled. The following morning, the plane arrived in Lima, where it underwent cleaning and provisions were brought on board. Additionally, 14 of the remaining 23 passengers were permitted to disembark at this point.

After releasing the remaining nine passengers in Mendoza, Argentina, the plane took off with only the crew members and hijackers aboard. At around 9 pm, the captain left a message indicating they were en route to Buenos Aires. However, what occurred next is quite baffling. Reports indicated that the plane made two stops in Resistencia and Asuncion, respectively. Before landing at each destination, the captain requested that the runway lights be turned off. The hijackers disembarked at these two locations after reaching an agreement with the captain. They had initially asked for the flight attendants to accompany them for safety reasons, but the captain assured them that if they allowed the flight attendants to remain on board, they would not disclose the hijackers’ whereabouts until they reached Buenos Aires, providing them with a few hours head start.

The crew members faced questioning regarding their assistance in aiding the hijackers’ escape, but they claimed that their families had been threatened, leaving them with no choice but to comply. Subsequently, a search for the hijackers commenced, revealing that they were not guerrilla soldiers but rather football players for the Paraguayan local club, Deportivo Pereira. Their identities were uncovered through their recognition and interaction with cyclist Luis Reategui, as well as their distinctive accents.

The hijackers were identified as Eusebio Borja and Francisco Solano López, and their backstory gradually came to light. It was revealed that they had attempted to raise funds within the Paraguayan community for their small business but had been unsuccessful. Five days after the hijacking ended, López was apprehended from his rented residence in Asunción. In his statement, he admitted to feeling exhausted and hungry, making it easy for him to carry out the hijacking. López also clarified that the guns and bombs they had were fake. He mentioned knowing Borja from their time as teammates on the América de Ambato team in the Ecuadorian first division.

Two years after his arrest, López was extradited to Colombia, where he received a 5-year prison sentence. However, Borja, on the other hand, managed to evade capture by the police and remains at large, continuing to elude authorities. While ‘The Hijacking of Flight 601’ takes some creative liberties with the actual events, it integrates numerous real-life characters into the narrative. This blending of fact and fiction allows for a nuanced exploration of the hijacking incident, capturing the tension, drama, and human complexities. Its grounding in real events and characters lends it a sense of credibility and emotional resonance.

Read More: The Hijacking of Flight 601: Exploring All Filming Locations