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Tagua - Taxi Aero Del Guaviare
Douglas DC-3 HK-1505

The Caribbean Sea lies between South America, Central America and the United States, which places it on one of the most important drug trafficking routes in the Western Hemisphere. It has more than 700 islands, Inlets, reefs and cays stretching across more than 1 million square miles and is ideal for smugglers. Furthermore there are 13 sovereign countries in the Caribbean region, some of which less stable and developed, "a true smuggler′s paradise"

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History

During the 1970s and early 80s, the Caribbean Sea was the preferred route for Latin America′s drug traffickers, with around 80 percent of all US-bound cocaine transiting through the region.
Ensuing anti-narcotic operations in the Caribbean pushed traffickers towards Central America, which then became the primary transit corridor to the United States.

As always conflict opens up opportunities for certain individuals to make a lot of money. The civil war raging in Colombia with large parts of the country out of the control of the central government meant that it was an ideal set up for the production of drugs. Initially mostly marijuana and later cocaine was produced in large quantities in the barely accessible parts of the country. Colombia became the prime source to satisfy the ever increasing demand within the USA. The issue then was how to get it there.

In the 1970s, marijuana was the drug of choice in the US. Marijuana was transported in bales and this resulted in quite high volumes. It did not take producers and transporters long to realise that the ideal aircraft to transport these load was the trusty aged Douglas transports like the twin engine Douglas DC-3, which was still available in abundance around the USA, Central and South America.

Which other aircraft could take the abuse of being much overloaded on take-off, flying out of short hacked out, rough as hell, jungle strips, dried up riverbeds and then fly for missions up to 12 hrs using crudely installed, totally illegal (non FAA approved for sure) long range tank equipment of dubious reliability and sometimes even with just a single pilot flying? Douglas DC-3s in those years could be easily bought at cheap prices, spares were plentiful and a large number of pilots, young and old alike were persuaded by the quick cash to take these high risk missions.

Other suitable DC-3s were just as easily stolen and flown away in the dead at night from locations in the Southern States or Caribbean islands. In other known cases, aircraft were reported stolen, but in reality were illegally sold via an exchange of cash. When values of the loads increased with the transportation of Cocaine, the aircraft cost became so small, they became expendable. The loss of a 150K DC-3 meant nothing to the smugglers compared to the load of many millions it was carrying.

The usual process was for the big loads to be flown out of Colombia, north to the staging posts in the Bahamas. Once there the loads would be distributed onto smaller aircraft or speedboats and to make the final run to enter the US. Of course the hunt was always on in this ‘cat and mouse’ game between the smugglers and the DEA. In many cases these venerable aircraft would be caught in the act and impounded on the ground, or they would crash and burn, possibly after being intercepted and even in some cases shot down. In many cases though, they would just disappear without a trace, never to be seen again. If anything went wrong on a remote airstrip, major repairs were impossible and usually the planes were set on fire. Numerous DC-3s and other larger 4 enigine props, met their fate in this way. For obvious reasons, details are unfortunately very scarce, even when suddenly an aircraft drops in onto a Bahamian beach it becomes clear we know almost nothing about these shady ops……..

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Tagua - DC-3 crash Bahamas

The above images show the crashed Colombian Douglas DC-3 HK-1505 lying on a remote Bahamas Island. The aircraft was last known to be operated by Tagua - Taxi Aereo del Guaviare Ltda as a passenger and cargo operator airplane and based at La Vanguardia airport at Villavicencio, Colombia. Tagua was formed in the early 1970s and Hernando Gonzales Villamizar was the manager. It operated no less than a total of 38 assorted aircraft, with the largest fleet of Cessna 206 (18) followed by Piper Pa-32 (7) and Cessna 172 (5). It did operate one single DC-3 HK-1505W which was an ex VIP transport for the Colombian Petroleum Company. It is not known if Tagua still owned the aircraft at the time or if it had been sold or stolen, but one clear starry Caribbean night, local fishermen noted a low flying aircraft without lights coming from the south and disappearing in the direction of the Bahamas. Nobody will know with certainty what happened but likely theories would include, technical issues (the aircraft was not that young after all), running out of fuel after its long overwater flight and finally, the possibility of it being intercepted by a prowling and watching Boeing E-3 airborne & surveillance aircraft, flying high above the Caribbean waters.

What is clear is that the pilots dumped their load of contraband over the sea and ditched into the sea towards shore of the Spanish Wells or Royal Island in the Bahamas? They then escaped on foot, and lived to tell the tale of their adventure. The poor Tagua DC-3 lying on the beach soon became a tourist attraction…and she was finally broken up a few years later.

Info & history credit: Jaime Escobar Corrandine – Andre van Loon, Don Faber Flickr, Hans Wiesman author of the "The Dakota Hunter" and "PBY-5 Catalina" which can be ordered directly via Amazone: https://www.amazon.com/The-Dakota-Hunter-Legendary-Frontiers/dp/1612002587
And Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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