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Aircraft used for ‘death flights’ returns to Argentina

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – A cargo plane used by military henchmen during Argentina’s “dirty war” to fly leftists over the ocean and push them to their deaths has been brought back to the country, where it may go on display in a museum on the horrors of dictatorship.

The Belfast-built Skyvan PA-51 cargo plane landed in Buenos Aires on Saturday, AFP confirmed, after sleuths traced it to the United States (US), where for much of the last decade it had been ferrying skydivers with few aware of its gruesome history.

An official ceremony today will mark the plane’s return, amid a push to exhibit it at the Museum of Memory dedicated to victims of the rightist military regime that convulsed the country from 1976 until 1983.

Flight records and other documentation show that a military crew took the aircraft up on the night of December 14, 1977.

Among those aboard, bound and drugged, were three members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that protested the disappearance of their children by the military, two French nuns and seven other people.

People walk alongside one of the planes that carried out ‘death flights’ at Jorge Newbery International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. PHOTO: AP

All were shoved out the door of the aircraft into Atlantic waters.

“The plane is something dark for us, but having found and identified it, we cannot allow it to continue flying,” one of the promoters of the repatriation of the aircraft that belonged to the Naval Prefecture Mabel Careaga told AFP.

Careaga is the daughter of Esther Ballestrino, who was thrown into the ocean from the plane, along with the other founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Azucena Villaflor and Maria Ponce.

“It is too horrifying to imagine my mother there,” said Careaga, who together with Cecilia de Vicenti, 62, Villaflor’s daughter, hopes the aircraft will be exhibited on the grounds of the Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, the site of a clandestine death camp where some 5,000 prisoners were held and which today is the Museum of Memory.

“The airplane is part of the story, which is painful, but it has to be told as it was,” De Vicenti said.

All the victims of that flight were singled out by a former sailor, Alfredo Astiz, who infiltrated the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. He’s now serving life in prison.