Aerobolivar: Is It A Real Airlines Company? Who Was Julio Cesar Esguerra?


The basic plot of Netflix’s The Hijacking of Flight 601 is based on a true story; however, many of the events and names of the characters have been changed in the series for creative reasons. Aerobolivar Airlines, for instance, is based on a real-life Medellin aviation company called SAM Airlines that began its operation in 1946. The company’s main headquarters is in Bogota, which is similar to what we saw in the Netflix series. As per the true events, SAM’s aircraft HK-1274 was hijacked on May 30, 1973, by two air pirates belonging to a community of Paraguayan immigrants. However, these hijackers didn’t board the plane in Bogota, as presented in the series. Instead, they caught the flight in Pereira, which was basically the place from which these terrorists belonged. Additionally, there were around 84 passengers on board, while Netflix’s series cut the number in half.

As presented in the series, soon after the plane was hijacked, Aerobolivar’s HQ in Bogota received a radio message about the same. Most likely, these events stay close to reality; however, the entire internal politics of the aviation company seem fictitious. In real life, soon after the hijackers made their initial demands, the Colombian government backed off as they didn’t want to negotiate with the terrorists. Such hijackings had become quite recurrent in the country, and giving in to one terrorist’s demands means encouraging others to carry out such sky hijackings. 

SAM Airlines, on the other hand, brought in a negotiating lawyer, Ignacio Mustafa, who literally had no experience with terrorists and had never dealt with one in his life. In reality, he was in charge of the company’s labor negotiation team. In the series, Aerobolivar’s director, Aristides Pirateque, even cracks a joke about the same during the board of directors’ meeting, if anyone remembers. Later, Pirateque takes up the responsibility of dealing with the hijackers. To tell the truth, Pirateque wasn’t qualified for the task, and that was the reason why his entire negotiation strategy seemed like a farce. Furthermore, I don’t believe Pirateque’s character is based on any real-life person, as there is no evidence to connect him with the true events.

Meanwhile, the character of Misael Pastrana is indeed based on a real-life Colombian president. But some of the events revolving around him are quite fictional. For example, after the Colombian leaders refused to negotiate with the terrorists, they didn’t stop the aviation company from negotiating with the terrorists. Mustafa, along with SAM’s secretary general, arrived in Aruba (where the plane had landed) to negotiate terms with the terrorists. Mustafa and the secretary general wanted to board the plane to talk it out further, but the hijackers got freaked out and threatened them not to meddle any further. In response, they forced the pilots to fly the plane out of Aruba. Netflix’s series, however, made some changes here. First of all, we saw how Pirateque stole the money from the company’s locker to pay the terrorist and brought in a bag filled with $50,000 to Aruba. Even though the scene is close to real-life events, a lot of things have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. In real life, it was the Aruban government that facilitated a deal between the hijackers and the aviation company. They asked SAM airplanes to pay the terrorists $50,000 during the change of crew, and in exchange, the hijackers would release the passengers without any further ado. Fortunately, both parties agreed. However, in The Hijacking of Flight 601, we never saw any change in crew, and the plane staff remained the same from the beginning to the very end.

Moving forward, the character of Vice Minister of Defense Julio Cesar Esguerra in The Hijacking of Flight 601 is completely fictional. As mentioned earlier, the Colombian government backed off from the entire process and, therefore, didn’t interfere in the affairs after that. However, to dramatize things further, Netflix’s series introduced Esguerra, who started attacking Pirateque for making a deal with the terrorists and, therefore, became an enemy of the state. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Esguerra’s entire involvement in the narrative is completely fictional for two broad reasons. First of all, the Aruban government itself cracked the deal. Secondly, the hijackers didn’t take any hostages with them, and therefore no further investigation was ever conducted, especially not by the Vice Minister of Defense. Even the Colombian government didn’t bring an army to blow up the plane, and the entire crescendo during the climax seems fictional. In real life, SAM Airlines’ crew members convinced the hijackers to not take any hostages. And in exchange, the captain shut down all the communication channels with the air tower and helped the hijackers escape. He didn’t inform the authorities about their disappearance for the safety of his crew members. In the aftermath of it, the hijackers managed to escape, but eventually, one of them got arrested, while the other still remains a fugitive.

The hijacking of HK-1274 still remains one of the darkest chapters in the history of the aviation company. It was a difficult time for airlines like SAM Colombia to deal with such frequent incidents. As portrayed in the series, the aviation company struggled to keep things afloat financially. They had huge debts to pay, and in 1954, they became a part of Avianca to remain functional. They conducted their operations for several years until the early 2000s when Synergy Group finally purchased Avianca. After that, SAM’s future seemed dark. The aviation company struggled in the new-age market and finally ceased operations on October 4, 2010. Even though the air pirates created history with the hijacking of SAM’s aircraft, the aviation company itself is no longer part of the real world.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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