Gutsy Guatemalan Air Force Pilot Deserves A Raise For Flying Out This Stranded Narco Jet

The crazy departure is just part of the story. This is the third time the bogus registration N818LD has been found on Hawker 125 narco-jets. 

MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA

When it comes to the very shady world of drug-running, it seems that few stories are not fascinating. Such is the case with a Hawker Siddley 125 business jet that landed on a very rough strip in Guatemala on January 27, 2020. But it's not just the fact that the plane made it down safely and was subsequently flown out from the undulating dirt strip by a ridiculously brave Guatalmalan Air Force pilot, the plane's identity also includes a bizarre twist. 

Breaking Balize News initially reported the following about the botched drug-running operation:

Prеnѕа Lіbrе Guаtеmаlа rероrtеd thаt Guаtеmаlаn аrmу оffісіаlѕ dіѕсоvеrеd а nаrсо-јеt, twо vеhісlеѕ thаt trаnѕроrtеd thе drugѕ аnd fіrеаrmѕ іn Реtеn thіѕ mоrnіng.

Ассоrdіng tо thе rероrtѕ, thе аrmу fоund 16 расkаgеѕ оf ѕuѕресtеd сосаіnе іn thе bасk оf а рісkuр truсk іn Ѕаn Аndrеѕ, Реtеn. Аuthоrіtіеѕ іn Реtеn аlѕо fоund аn АК-47 іnѕіdе thе vеhісlе.

Ѕеvеrаl rеѕіdеntѕ оf Duсkrun 3 іn Веlіzе tоld ВВN thаt ѕhоrtlу bеfоrе 11 lаѕt nіght, thеу hеаrd а lоw flуіng аіrсrаft іn thеіr соmmunіtу. Тhе соmmunіtу іѕ lосаtеd ѕоmе 8 mіlеѕ аwау frоm thе Веlіzе-Guаtеmаlа bоrdеr.

Rесеntlу, thеrе hаѕ bееn аn аlаrmіng іnсrеаѕе іn сlаndеѕtіnе lаndіngѕ оf ѕuѕресtеd drug аіrсrаftѕ іn Guаtеmаlа, Веlіzе аnd Мехісо wіth nо mајоr еffоrt bу аuthоrіtіеѕ tо сrасk dоwn оn knоwn rurаl lаndіng lосаtіоnѕ.

MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA
MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA
MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA
MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA
MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA

That narco-jet was a Hawker Siddeley HS 125/Hawker 800 derivative—an aircraft known for its hardy airframe and landing gear that was designed over half a century ago to be able to access smaller improved airfields and even hardened grass airstrips, under some circumstances. Its big air brakes and slotted flaps help bring the mid-size private jet to a stop quickly. Still, the improvised airstrip depicted in the video, which seems more like a rough road than anything else, is a far cry from anything this plane was designed to handle. The fact that it made the landing at night is even crazier. 

MINISTERIO DE LA DEFENSA NACIONAL EJÉRCITO DE GUATEMALA

The aircraft made it safely to a Guatemalan Air Force installation after the salvage flight. 

The discovery and seizure of the jet didn't make much news internationally, but the fact that one gutsy Guatemalan Air Force pilot actually flew it out of the seemingly one-way landing spot has become a viral sensation in the aviation social media universe. Check out the crazy video for yourself below:

The aircraft safely made it to a Guatemalan Air Force installation where its condition is being evaluated while it is still being used as evidence as part of the investigation.

Yet the story of the drug-running Hawker doesn't end there. In an odd twist, the aircraft actually wears the same bogus registration of a similar aircraft that was seized for an identical activity in Belize two years ago. That registration is N818LD, which is actually legitimate, but belongs to an HS 125-700A owned by Central Virginia Aviation LLC and is current with the FAA. In fact, the jet that landed on a road in Belize even had a similar, but not identical paint job to the real McCoy

Belize Government

An HS 125 that was used for drug running found in Belize in the Spring of 2018. It also wore the bogus tail number N818LD

The strangeness doesn't end there. The spoofed registration has been used more than in just these two incidents, with it appearing on another HS 125 drug-running plane that landed in Venezuela just a month before the Hawker was seized in Belize. 

Venezuelan Government

An HS 125 variant found with the same bogus registration N818LD in Venezuela in March of 2018. According to eltubazodigital.com, the aircraft's real registration was XB-PDD.

So, it seems that using the N818LD has become something of a tradition in the drug-running community when an HS 125 derivative is available, or at least for one smuggling group or cartel. The use of the type is highly logical, not just for its aforementioned short-field performance and tough airframe, but also for its range, payload, speed, and the fact that there are plenty of them that are aging out of normal operations. 

The drug runners traditionally use careful route planning and fly as low as possible at night to remain undetected by radar and various law-enforcement and counter-narcotic-tasked military units in the region. It is an incredibly dangerous business as it can mean being thrown in a horrific prison for a very long period of time, crashing and burning on an austere road-turned landing strip, or being shot down by patrolling fighter aircraft. 

This was the third aircraft found in Guatemala this year associated with drug-running operations. Last year there were 54 in total. The region overall has seen an uptick of these types of smuggling operations, which isn't surprising as it seems that the cartels are becoming more aggressive with their international higher-tech (relatively) smuggling operations as of late.  

As for the real N818LD, it isn't clear if it is still flying in the states, but maybe it would be a good time for its owners to switch its registration regardless.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com