"Get Close to the Water, Felo!"
That sentence has gone into history as the most spine-chilling testimony of the October 6, 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane.
by Deisy Francis Mexidor
Sept. 13, 2009
Reprinted from Radio Cadena Agramonte
Weather conditions were normal on the morning of October 6, 1976. Eleven young people from Guyana said goodbye to their relatives at the Thimeri airport. They would be traveling to Cuba to study medicine. Some took advantage to kiss their girlfriends or boyfriends; others took pictures or hugged their parents, siblings..., while they waited for five members of a cultural delegation from North Korea that would join them on the first leg of their flight. When it was announced that the flight was boarding, they all said goodbye.
Guyana said goodbye to them routinely. Flight CU 455 would be landing 27 minutes late to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. The passengers in transit disembarked while the others stayed in their seats. There, the 24 members of the Cuban juvenile fencing team boarded.
They had just won all gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship of the sport, having arrived early that morning on a Pan American Airlines flight from Caracas.
In the Trinidad airport two men boarded the Cubana Airlines DC-8, they carried a handbag and they had stayed behind to be the last to enter the aircraft. They went up the stairs, without hurry, and they were met at the door by a smiling stewardess. Both got comfortable in the row of seats in the center, one next to the other." (1)
At 15:49 o'clock (GMT), the aircraft took off for Barbados after having taken all the necessary security measures implemented after a frustrated attack on a Cuban aircraft in Kingston, Jamaica. No cargo or mail, neither baggage without an accompanying passenger was being accepted.
Hand luggage would be revised to verify if the passengers carried guns. However, the custom authorities were not prepared to detect explosive substances. For that reason, the Venezuelan citizens Jose Vazquez Garcia (false name given by Hernán Ricardo Lozano) and Freddy Lugo had no difficulty in boarding the plane.
When they were on board, they did not eat any food. One of them goes to the bathroom and the door is stuck, and he screams for help. His associate cannot get up from the seat: fear leaves him motionless. The plane's captain goes to help the one that was having problems. The same captain that the two assassins had sentenced to death... At 16:21, the flight arrives to Seawell airport in Barbados. There Lugo and Ricardo put an end to their trip.
Almost one hour later, at 17:15 hours o'clock, the aircraft warmed up its engines, and took off for Jamaica. On board the DC-8 CUT1201 of Cubana Airlines were 73 people including the flight crew.
Eight minutes had gone by after the take off, when in the control tower a shout "Watch out" was heard on the radio. It was the scream of Captain Wilfredo Perez. Later on what they were saying came in clear: "Felo, there was an explosion in the passenger cabin and there is fire." "We are returning immediately; warns Seawell", the captain indicates.
"Seawell; Seawell... CU-455-CU-455... Seawell. We have had an explosion and we are descending immediately, we have a fire on board! ", was the warning message. "CU-455 will you return to the field?", they answer back. At 17:25:20, once again the co-pilot's voice is heard at the control tower "Seawell CU-455... we request a runway immediately, mmediately." A "Received", reaches the plane from the control tower. "CU-455 you are cleared to land."
Seconds later, at 17:25:27, in Seawell an urgent sentence is heard: "Close the door, close the door! CU-455. We have a total emergency, we continue listening, answer."
A second explosion had taken place in the area of the lavatories at the back of the plane. Without realizing of the new complication, the co-pilot screams: "This is worse, get close to the water, Felo, close to the water!"
Then the pilot rotates the aircraft, he knew that the end was near... With his action, he avoids the plane crashing on the nearby beach, impeding more innocent deaths. In the distance, before the amazed eyes of the swimmers, a fire ball descended on the coasts of Barbados.
A Venezuelan airplane that was flying nearby sent a radio call: "This is DQ-650. Can we help you in anyway?" Already, at that hour, the only answer was a deep silence. At a depth of 1,800 feet and 4.8 miles from the coast, the British frigate H. M. S. Tartar located the remains of the Cubana Airlines DC-8.
A correspondent of the Mexican newspaper Excelsior, Ted Cordova, pointed out that the "main error" of the executioners was having talked about the terrorist action that they had carried out, while they moved between the airport and the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. They imagined that the taxi driver Erick Johnson didn't understand Spanish; however, when he left them in the Holiday Inn Hotel, Johnson went to the police to accuse them, making possible their arrest after a short time.
In Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago amid his nervousness, Hernan Ricardo calls his girlfriend in Caracas and asks her to tell Luis (Posada Carriles) that "the bus with the dogs had fallen."
Later on, he would speak with Posada telling him: "How are you Luis, here man, I am in a fix, I don't know what to do, but the bug fell and it appears there are many survivors, with the quantity of seven killed. Get in touch with the boss Paniagua ( the code name of Orlando Bosch )."
By October 15, 1976 the Venezuelan police informed on the search carried out at the business that Luis Posada Carriles owned in Caracas, where evidence was found linking him with citizens Freddy Lugo and Hernán Ricardo , as well as his arrest and that of Orlando Bosch. In an interview with The Miami Herald, published on November 10, 1994, Posada declares with the greatest cynicism that "the sabotage was the most effective blow that has been carried out against Castro."