‘The Hijacking Of Flight 601’ True Story, Explained: Who Were The Air Pirates?


Based on a true story, Netflix’s Spanish series, The Hijacking of Flight 601, revolves around the real-life skyjacking of HK-1274 aircraft on Wednesday, May 30, 1973. Owned by a Colombian company, Sociedad Aeronautica de Medellin (or SAM), the aircraft took off from Bogota and made its second stop at Pereira, where two mysterious hijackers boarded the airplane. The two-armed terrorists, later identified by the police as Eusebio Borja (27 years old) and Francisco Solano Lopez (31 years old) took the passengers by surprise and intimidated the crew into following their commands.

At the time of the hijacking, there were around 84 passengers on board. With so many innocent lives at stake, Captain Jorge Lucena had no other option but to comply. The taller hijacker, who seemed like the leader of the pack, entered the cockpit and forced the pilots to steer the plane towards Aruba, an island in the Caribbean. Some two hours later, as soon as the plane reached the airport in Aruba, the hijackers finally revealed their demands.

According to reports, Borja and Lopez wanted $200,000 in cash and the release of a horde of political prisoners (50 prisoners, as per Netflix’s show) imprisoned in Socorro, Colombia. Their political demands gave a new angle to the entire fiasco, as they made it look like the entire operation was conducted by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, an urban guerrilla group operating in Colombia during that time. However, none of this was true. In reality, the hijackers made the political demand only to mislead the authorities. The ongoing political unrest in Latin America gave the criminals a perfect excuse to hide their true identities from the media and the authorities. Borja and Lopez also claimed that they were carrying explosives and wouldn’t shy away from blowing up the entire plane if their demands weren’t met. However, it was later revealed that none of the weapons were real. It was all a ruse to make their act look real. Some reports even suggest that they used blanks in the fake guns to terrorize the hostages.

While everything went according to plan, the political leaders of the Colombian government refused to negotiate with the terrorists. The reason being, the 1960s and 1970s saw a steep rise in plane hijackings, and bending to the demands of one would mean giving others the means to blackmail the government whenever they wanted. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, had their own agenda. They hijacked the airplane for two broad reasons. They wanted to steal from the capitalists and rich people and give back the ransom money to their countrymen. Secondly, the lack of security in aviation made it easier to hijack a plane than to rob a bank. In the end, the government pulled out and left the fate of the passengers at the hands of SAM airline negotiators. The company’s lawyer, Ignacio Mustafa, finally stepped in and tried to negotiate with the criminals. He offered them some 20 thousand dollars to let the passengers go. Evidently, the hijackers didn’t take the offer.

A few hours later, the news of the hijacking found its way into the local news in Colombia, and the hijackers released some 40 passengers, mostly women and children, for some good press. They wanted to send out a message that they didn’t mean any harm to the passengers and would let each of them go if the authorities would fulfill their demands. It is also worth mentioning that both Borja and Lopez were brilliant strategists. They kept moving the plane from one location to another so that the special forces wouldn’t have enough time to plan a rescue operation. After landing in several different locations, the plane finally returned to Aruba for the third time, where Aruban authorities, connected with the crew members, finally agreed to pay them $50,000 through the airline. After a bit of hesitation, the hijackers finally accepted.

The exchange was made during the change of crew, and as soon as Borja and Lopez got their hands on their money, they instructed the new captain, Hugo Molina, to take the plane to several other locations, where they released all the remaining passengers in two different batches. Some 55 hours after the hijacking, only the aircrew was left on board, and they were understandably terrified of the bad possibilities. It was when the hijackers asked the captain to take the plane to Buenos Aires. It turned out the criminals had no intention of spilling unnecessary blood. They just wanted to keep their money and escape without getting into trouble. They instructed the captain to turn off all communications while finally revealing their endgame, which was to disappear in the blindness of the night. 

As per the reports, the plane landed in two locations before arriving in Buenos Aires. One of the hijackers stepped down from the flight in Resistencia, while another one made his escape in Asuncion. As soon as the plane arrived in Buenos Aires, there was no sign of the hijackers. To everyone’s surprise, the captain and the crew claimed to have made a “gentleman’s agreement” with the hijackers in exchange for the safety and protection of the crew. The hijackers wanted to take the air hostesses with them as hostages, but Captain Molina didn’t want to risk their lives and, therefore, promised not to inform the authorities about their disappearance on the radio before they touched base in Buenos Aires. The agreement gave Borja and Lopez enough time to make their escape and disappear from the face of the Earth.

As soon as the plane finally came to safety, the authorities started a rigorous manhunt to catch the culprits. A point to be noted: in real life, no one had seen their faces as Borja and Lopez wore silver masks all the time. However, their brief but familiar interaction with famous cyclist Luis Reategui (one of the passengers) did them in. The investigators were certain that the hijackers belonged to the sports fraternity, therefore giving them a concrete lead in the case. The infamous hijackers who boarded the flight in Pereira belonged to a small community of immigrants from Paraguay. These two athletes had migrated to Pereira, Colombia to play soccer for the better clubs, but their luck didn’t favor their talent.

Borja and Lopez had decided to hijack a plane to arrange money for a small business, and everything went as planned until one of them was caught by the authorities. In Asuncion, the authorities finally arrested Lopez, who, at the time of his arrest, was hiding in a rented place near his family house. Two years after his arrest, Lopez was finally brought to Colombia from Paraguay, where he was sentenced to five years in prison. After his release, Lopez kept a low profile. As per the rumors, he probably died during a failed bank robbery in Buenos Aires. Borja, on the other hand, remains on the run. There were numerous rumors about his appearance on a Colombian island, but no one has been able to catch him yet. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that, wherever Borja is, he would be watching the Netflix series and patting himself on the back for pulling off one of the longest hijackings in the history of Latin America.

Netflix’s Spanish series is based on the works of researcher Massimo Di Ricco, who had written a book and co-produced Ambulante’s radio show called “The Air Pirates” that revolves around the same incident. Much of the narrative used in Netflix’s series is most likely based on Massimo’s research work, but I am not sure if the creators, Pablo Gonzalez and C.S. Prince, would give him the credit that he truly deserves. However, after watching The Hijacking of Flight 601‘s trailer, I am quite certain that Netflix’s show creators are going to make some drastic changes to real-life events. To begin with, we don’t see the hijackers wearing any masks, which will make it easy for the authorities to catch them in the end. Additionally, it would be logical to suggest that the crew would remain the same in the Netflix show, as the creators will most likely want to explore the established characters till the end. In real life, flight attendant Edilma Perez and her friend Maria Eugenia Gallo boarded the plane during the crew exchange. But from the trailer, it seems that these two air hostesses boarded the plane in Bogota itself. In real life, Edilma was a single mother with five children, and we get to see a glimpse of the same in the trailer. The captain and the two air hostesses will play an important role in dealing with the hijackers, thus making them the central characters of the show. However, how much of it has changed can only be said with exact certainty once the show is out.

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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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