Richard Wilches In ‘The Hijacking Of Flight 601’ Is Based On Real-Life Captain: How Did He Die?


The Hijacking of Flight 601 made us privy to a lot of facets of Colombian society: it made us understand the plight of the underprivileged class and how they are brainwashed and coerced to pick up arms; it showcased how the entire plane crew acted with utmost responsibility and displayed courage when it mattered the most; and it also shed light on the policies of the Colombian government in the early seventies pertaining to all the rebellion movements happening in the country. The character of commander Richard Wilches, though not inspired by one specific person, could be said to be an amalgamation of both the pilots who flew the hijacked flight of SAM Airlines back in 1973. Captain Jorge Lucena was the pilot when HK-1274 flew from Bogota, but after around 30 odd hours, the authorities convinced the hijackers to let them replace the entire crew since all of them were fatigued beyond any limit. That’s when Edilma Perez, Barbara, Hugo Molina (pilot), and Pedro Ramirez (copilot) came on board. 

Firstly, it is important to specify that the entire sequence where we saw Edilma stabbing Captain Wilches didn’t happen in real life. In The Hijacking of Flight 601, we saw Wilches being shown as an extremely selfish guy who was ready to throw anybody under the bus if it came to his life. Wilches wanted to land the plane in Bogota even after knowing that the defense minister had ordered the army to shoot the plane if it landed in their territory. The government at that point in time didn’t care if they caused any collateral damage, and their priority was to not give in to the demands of the hijackers, Toro and Borja. In real life, though, Molina was told that Edilma and María Eugenia would be taken by them, so the captain did not reveal their location to the Colombian authorities. On the hijacker’s orders, he turned off all the radio communication and didn’t make any contact with the tower until they landed at an airport in Buenos Aires. Also,  contrary to what was presented in Netflix’s series, Toro and Borja didn’t escape together. Instead, the hijackers dropped down at two different locations and got separated from each other. In the beginning, it seemed like they were improvising, taking the plane from one location to another, but in reality, it was all part of their grand scheme to mislead the authorities.

Now, in the end, The Hijacking of Flight 601 made some really drastic changes to the true story, and much of what happened in the Netflix show didn’t take place in real life. Borja and Toro never took Wilches hostage for their protection. In real life, the hijackers wanted to take two stewardesses with them so that the authorities wouldn’t hunt them down. But it was at that moment that Molina made a gentleman’s pact with the hijackers, and he told them that he wouldn’t tell the authorities about where they had dropped down. Molina did it because he cared for those two stewardesses who put their lives at risk so that the passengers could go unharmed. It was an act of valor, and Molina had decided that he wouldn’t utter a word in front of the authorities. Molina knew the cost he would have to pay and the allegations that could be put on him, but he still kept his word. He only revealed to the authorities that the hijackers had disappeared only after the plane touched base in Buenos Aires.

In real life, the media bashed Captain Molina for conspiring with the terrorists. Even the law enforcement authorities heavily scrutinized him. Things became so much worse that even Molina’s father had to face the media and justify the actions of his son. But after a thorough investigation, Molina and his copilot Pedro were acquitted of all charges, and they were given back their aviation licenses. So, unlike what we saw in the Netflix series, the captain didn’t receive any awards for his bravery because none of that actually happened in real life. Instead, he was severely criticized for his actions.

In the end, The Hijacking of Flight 601 revealed to us that Commander Richard Wilches died seven years later in a tragic plane crash in Florida. However, as per the reports, the real-life captain Molina and his copilot Pedro died approximately ten years after the hijacking incident. Both of them lost their lives in a plane crash. We didn’t really understand the motive behind showing that kind of arc for the character of Wilches in the series when the reality was a bit different from it. Firstly, Wilches was shown to be this selfish and shrewd man who didn’t care about anyone, but later he chose to remain quiet during the interrogation, and he was also felicitated for his act of bravery. In real life, Molina and Pedro didn’t get any sort of awards or recognition, and the authorities gave them a hard time. Probably, the makers wanted to give the pilots their due credit, and that is why they opted for a kind of ending that was different from reality. 

Sometimes, there are some instances that happen in your life that you just can’t forget. The hijacking of flight HK-1274 was one such incident, and the entire aircrew, together with the passengers, remembered the horrors they faced that day and how fortunate they were to come out of it alive.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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