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Cablegate: Embassy Bogota: Hijack of Colombian Airline With

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) BOGOTA 08571 (B) BOGOTA 08586

1. BEGIN SUMMARY: (SBU) On 12 September 2005 at 1218 pm, a
Colombian airliner on a domestic flight to Bogota from
Florencia was hijacked. Four Contract Employees from the
Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS), to include 1 US Citizen,
were onboard. As detailed in reftels, the flight landed
safely in Bogota and negotiations ensued leading to the
eventual release of all hostages unharmed and the arrest of
the two hijackers at 1715 hours. Embassy officers were
present at the airport and privy to the negotiations
throughout the ordeal. All four contractors were escorted to
the Embassy where they were debriefed in detail by RSO.
LEGATT conducted additional interviews of each contractor on
13 September in connection with their criminal investigation
of the incident. Complete details of the incident and RSO
debrief follow below. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On 12 September 2005, at or around 1218 hrs
Colombian Aires flight 8081, a DASH 8-300, tail number HK
4030 with 25 passengers and crew, originating from Florencia
in route to Bogota, Colombia squawked the emergency signal
for HIJACK on its transponder. Once the hijacking was
verified by Civil Aviation Authorities, the Regional Security
Office (RSO) at Embassy Bogota was notified by Wade Chapple
of the Embassy Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at 1230 hours
who maintain a permanent presence at Colombian Civil Aviation
Headquarters. RSO was informed that the aircraft was
hijacked by unknown persons with explosives, possibly
grenades, and that it was circling in the flight pattern on
an approach to El Dorado International Airport in Bogota,
awaiting permission to land. Due to the unclear motive of
the hijackers and the 11 September anniversary, RSO
immediately stationed a DS Agent and Marine Security Guards
to the roof to spot any potential incoming aircraft and began
immediate notifications to Executive Office, Defense Attache
Office (DAO), Narcotic Affairs Section (NAS), Public Affairs
Office (PAO), Medical, and MILGRP. Noteworthy, is that the
RCC played a crucial role throughout this crisis, relaying
time sensitive information to include the passenger manifest,
without which Embassy Bogota,s ability to assess and direct
an appropriate response would have been seriously hampered.

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3. (SBU) At approximately 1247 RSO received notification of
landing at the military side of El Dorado International
Airport known as CATAM. RSO then sent an Assistant Regional
Security Officer (ARSO) and a DAO officer to the NAS hangar
at the airport to start command center operations as detailed
in Embassy Bogota,s section 400 of the Emergency Action Plan
(EAP). Roads to the airport were impassable due to the
tremendous amount of military, police and emergency personnel
requiring ARSO to gain access via foot through various
makeshift control points.

4. (SBU) The Command Center at the NAS hangar was activated
at 1400 hours, located approximately 1,000 meters from the
hijacked aircraft. ARSO was designated on scene commander
with technical, communication, and recovery support by the
NAS Deputy Senior Aviation Advisor, NAS Intelligence Advisor,
Acting Dyncorp Flight Manager, and NRCM/SAR (Non-rated crew
member search and rescue advisor.) At this same time, Embassy
confirmed that among the passengers were four Dyncorp
contract employees of the Embassy Narcotics Affairs Section
(NAS), to include 1 United States Citizen, (James R. Dyba),
two Colombian national employees (Hugo Casallas and Diego
Holguin), and one Peruvian national employee (Javier
Changano). Additionally, the Embassy learned that two
Colombian Congressmen were also on board as passengers. In
the early minutes of the hijacking, several of the NAS
employees received text messages from the Embassy hostages on
the aircraft. The first text message was received at 1310 hrs
from Hugo Casallas followed by a second text message at 1430
from Javier Changano. Likewise, five minutes before landing
a Dyncorp supervisor was called by one of the contractors and
alerted of the hijacking. Messages were also directed to
family members which all reflected that events on the
aircraft were calm and orderly. RSO and NAS officers
directed several family members to go to the U.S. Embassies
in Bogota and Lima to provide a positive active role for the
family and to eliminate their further communication to the
hostages. The ARSO on the scene directed that all
communication to the hostages be ceased and that additional
communication be filtered and directed by Colombian
authorities handling the negotiations to minimize danger to
the hostages. ARSO and DAO were redirected by RSO to the
CATAM Colombian Command Post to coordinate USG interface with
the Colombian on scene commanders. These officers were later
joined at CATAM by RCC, Consular Officer and LEGATT. Embassy
Agencies and Sections were subsequently notified of the
events with the first of two Emergency Action Committee
meetings of the day.

5. (SBU) Government of Colombia (GOC) operations center was
located at CATAM approximately five hundred meters from the
NAS hangar. The on scene commander for the GOC was the
Minister of Defense and the CATAM Base Commander, Col.
Puerta. The GOC delegation was also comprised of several
high-ranking cabinet level members to include the Fiscal
General, Director of the National Police, General Castro
Castro, and eventually Colombian President Uribe. Telephone
negotiations to the hijackers were conducted by Colombian
Senator Moreno de Caro, Senator Gustavo Petro and the Defense
Minister. Two GOC officials, Head of Human Rights for the
Office of Vice-President, Carlos Franco (an ex M-19 guerrilla
himself) and a representative of the Prosecutor General's
Office were actually dispatched to the plane for face-to-face
negotiations with the Hijackers. DAO informed RSO that the
Deputy Minister of Defense wished to view the Embassy's
Hijacking Section of the Emergency Action Plan
(unclassified), which facilitated the ARSO entry to the GOC
Command Center. The ARSO was later able to gain access for
DAO, LEGAT, NAS, CONOFF and RCC Liaison into the GOC Command
Center. Embassy officers did not initially gain access to the
actual negotiations, however, at approximately 1515 hrs the
team eventually gained full access and established liaison at
appropriate levels. At approximately 1545, several male
passengers were released by the hijackers. At 1549 ARSO
physically confirmed that all four Embassy employees were

6. (SBU) All former hostages, to include the four Embassy
Bogota employees, were held at CATAM for questioning by GOC
investigators; under the watch and supervision of the ARSO.
Noteworthy is that the actual grenades that were used in the
hijacking were placed in the same room as the hostages as a
form of securing the evidence. After questioning by
Colombian investigators, GOC representatives told the ARSO
that the hostages were still required to remain at the
airport. The ARSO, however, was able to gain their release
and the Embassy team transported them back to the Embassy.
The group arrived at the Embassy for final debrief at 1840
hrs. Embassy Medical Unit was standing by for medical review
which was declined by all four hostages who were obviously
fatigued but in perfect health with no apparent injuries.

7. (SBU) The Debriefing was conducted in the RSO conference
room. RSO, DAO, MILGRP, RCC debriefer Chapple and LEGAT were
present. ARSO SA Keith, DRSO SA Mills and LEGAT SA Luna led
the debriefing in English and Spanish. The hostages gave a
play-by-play of the events before, after, and during the
events as detailed below.

8. (SBU) The four hostages described the two hijackers as one
young Colombian man in his twenties with a skin shaved
haircut on the sides and an older man who was in a
wheel-chair. The hijackers were later identified as Porfirio
RAMIREZ ALDANA, 42 years old, and Ussynhaver RAMIREZ
RENINOSO, 23 years old. The hostages stated that during
security screening at the airport in Florencia, security
expedited one of the hijackers around a metal detector and
did not search a fanny pack he had on his lap. The four U.S.
employees recounted seeing the two hijackers in the airport
waiting area looking around and appearing slightly worried
before the flight. The flight conducted pre-boarding and the
older hijacker was hand carried out of his wheelchair on to
the plane by the younger hijacker and a member of the flight

9. (SBU) The four recounted that the hijackers were seated on
the third row on the left hand side of the DASH-8. American
James Dyba was seated on the six row aisle several rows
behind the hijackers with Casallas and Holguin in the two
seats on the right. Javier Changano was seated at the window
on the right side of aircraft in the fifth row. The hostages
reported approximately 30 minutes into the flight seeing the
younger man get out of his seat and get the attention of a
flight attendant. The flight attendant came to the location
of the older hijacker seated in the third row. A conversation
took place for about three to five minutes with the flight
attendant taking notes. It is believed by the witnesses that
the older man displayed the grenades to the attendant but
they did not have a clear view and only thought that the
situation was odd. The flight attendant used an internal
phone at least three times to communicate to the pilot. The
younger man went to the phone and spoke to the pilot for
three to four minutes. The pilot subsequently announced on
the public address system that there was a special situation
on board and that all passengers were to remain in their
seats with their seatbelts fastened. Witnesses noticed a
sudden and dramatic change of altitude and a change in
direction of travel. The pilot then announced that they were
going to Bogota and that he would provide more information
later. Several minutes later the pilot announced that,
"There are explosives on board", "everyone remain calm",
"move to the rear of the plane." At that time the younger
hijacker moved to a rear facing seat at the front of the
plane apparently to watch the passengers. Witnesses stated
that everyone moved calmly to the back seats of the plane as
the aircraft made two wide circles and then made a straight
approach for landing at El Dorado International Airport in
Bogota. The mood of everyone was reportedly calm. The
original flight attendant that spoke to the older hijacker
stayed seated at the front of the plane.
10. (SBU) The Captain did not open the cockpit door until
after the landing and taxi of the aircraft to the CATAM ramp.
The Captain was the intermediary for the hostage negotiations
throughout the ordeal and used both his personal cellphone
and aircraft radio to communicate the hijacker's demands.
Witnesses stated that at no time did the hijackers speak to
the passengers or command them to do anything. After twenty
to thirty minutes, the Captain reportedly requested and was
told by the hijackers that the women and children were
allowed to leave. At least three times the Captain came to
the back of the plane and told the passengers to be calm and
not to do anything. A priest subsequently entered the plane
and also assisted in the negotiations. According to
witnesses, two people from President Uribe,s office entered
the plane to further the negotiations. Conversations were
overheard that the Minister of Defense was talking directly
to the hijackers. During one point the younger hijacker made
a cell phone call, presumably to check on a wire transfer and
even exited and reentered the aircraft at a point for a few
minutes. Witnesses stated that this was the first time he
was smiling. They heard the Captain state to the older
hijacker "can you put the pin back in", in reference to the
suspected grenade that was in the hand of the older hijacker.

11. (SBU) Once an agreement was reached between the GOC and
the hijackers the Captain organized the manner of the release
of the rest of the hostages in groups of two and three.
During the initial release the older hijacker was scared and
ordered everyone back to their seats. The older hijacker
demanded that the priest, the crew, and the two
representatives from President's Office stay on board.
Shortly thereafter, at approximately 1545, the hostages were
released. The Captain stated to the hostages upon departure,
"Do not do anything, just exit." All four employees reported
that they were loaded in a Hilux Toyota truck and taken to
the military terminal where they were searched and put into a
holding room and subsequently greeted by the Embassy
officers. All four contractors stated that they were
considering means of escape from the aircraft through the
emergency exits, but were reassured by the Captain not to
take action and that the situation was under control.

12. (SBU) In summary, the GOC peacefully concluded this
incident, despite the chaos and disorganization of the
negotiation efforts, as witnessed by Embassy officers on site
and later described by Vice-Minister of Defense Penate in a
discussion with Embassy officers after the event. Penate
indicated that the only positive GOC efforts were the actions
of the Minister of Defense, who eventually assumed control of
the situation upon his arrival, and the negotiations
conducted by Carlos Franco. Penate further expressed an
interest in obtaining USG training for the GOC in crisis
management. Perhaps coincidentally, the DS Anti-Terrorism
Training Program (ATA), through the RSO, had earlier in this
month, already offered the GOC a formal class in hostage
negotiations for 30 students in November of this year and a
crisis management seminar for high-level GOC representatives
in Spring 2006. (Post expects to receive a positive response
from the GOC to these training opportunities in the near
future.) RSO learned that concurrent with the negotiations,
a Colombian Air Force counter-terrorism unit was rehearsing a
potential assault on another DASH-8 aircraft on the other
side of the airport, in the event that diplomacy would not
bring the desired resolution. Contrary to the GOC's
emergency planning efforts, the information flow to the
Embassy was quick and actionable due to the excellent
coordination and communication between the RCC and the
Regional Security Office. Post EAP was also put the test
with the activation of the NAS Command Post at the airport,
however, access to the Embassy response team was hampered by
the disorganization mentioned above and the traffic jam that
ensued at the airport entrance due to the haphazard police
efforts to control vehicular access to the area. RSO will
lead an after action review with all participating Embassy
offices and adjust Post emergency action plans accordingly.

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