By Tom Demerly.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014, approximately 1540 HRs Local, North of Roatan, Honduras in the Southern Caribbean.
Eric Emanuel Mejia Montes is sweating.
Montes is sitting in the right, co-pilot’s seat of a Gulfstream II private jet wearing registration N707KD. Only 40-feet below, and slightly behind him is a Cessna 182 single engine, prop-driven civil aviation light plane.
Flying in tight formation the two planes are on final approach to Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Manuel Gálvez, the only airport on Roatan Island, 30 miles off the Honduran coast in the southwestern Caribbean.
The Cessna’s maximum speed is 173 MPH. The Gulfstream II’s minimum stall speed is 121 MPH. Any slower and it falls out of the sky. The Cessna can’t fly any faster to keep up with the jet, now flying so slow it is a wind gust away from falling out of the sky.
The two very different aircraft, one a private executive jet designed for intercontinental travel, the other a light general aviation plane, were never intended to fly close formation with each other, let alone in bumpy tropical air near sunset on short-final approach to a small island runway with no air traffic control facilities.
On radar the two aircraft look like one because they are so close, and despite the stress of trying to hold a close formation (Montes isn’t much of a pilot, barely qualified to fly the Gulfstream) it is more important they risk a midair collision than be detected by the radar-carrying AWACS planes of the U.S. and Mexican security forces.
Co-Pilot Montes and his “captain” have the easier job. The man, or men, in the Cessna beneath them must wait until the last second before they steer away from the jet above them, avoid a midair collision and quickly land on the same runway behind the jet. Then Montes and Ríos will taxi the jet to a parking area, abandon it and run to the still-running Cessna light plane for a hasty take-off from Roatan. All without official clearance and mostly without detection.
The two planes and their crews followed a mysterious, untraceable path south toward Roatan. No one knows where they took off from, and there was no flight plan filed for their destination. The authorities at Juan Manuel Gálvez Airport, what authorities there are, knew nothing of the arrival of this unusual formation of aircraft.
No one knows exactly what Gulfstream II N707KD and the Cessna 182 are doing. No one knows where they came from.
Three years later what I learned poking around Roatan’s little airport, its island shops and restaurants, from taxi drivers on the island and local SCUBA divers, is that the next day the Cessna 182 that left Roatan with both flight crews- was shot down. All of the crew members were killed according to reports- what reports there are- and no accessible record of who the original Cessna pilots were, where they came from or what they were doing exists.
From other sources I learned the Cessna 182 was intercepted that next day over the jungle by a Russian-built Venezuelan Air Force Sukhoi SU-30MKV Flanker-G. The big Venezuelan fighter shot the Cessna down with a burst from its GSh-30-1 30 millimeter cannon. The charred bodies of Darimel Guerrero Ríos and Eric Emanuel Mejia Montes- the flight crew of Gulfstream II N707KD- were found inside.
But no one else was.
Reports revealed the Gulfstream II that landed without clearance the day before on Roatan and was quickly abandoned without explanation “tested positive for having carried narcotics”. It didn’t take an expert intelligence analyst to figure that out.
But what happened afterwards- the disappearance of the Cessna flight crew, the shoot-down by the Venezuelan fighter, the lack of documentation of most of the incidents and the almost complete lack of reporting on the entire incident- is perhaps the most fascinating part of the story.
Or maybe not.
In a search of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s database for fugitives the name of one, “’Mike’, Mohammed Mouied, alias EL KHATEEB and/or Mike KHATEEB” is revealed in a search for the names of Darimel Guerrero Ríos and Eric Emanuel Mejia Montes.
Mouied or El Khateeb, or Mike Khateeb- whichever alias you prefer (they’re likely all fake) is a Jordanian. There is a moderately serious criminal record for meth-amphetamine attached to his name and the directive “Do not attempt to apprehend this individual.” His activities appear unrelated to the incident of abandoning the aircraft on Roatan and the shooting-down of the Cessna the next day by the Venezuelans. But he is still somehow linked to the incident- at least in the DEA database.
The abandoned Gulfstream II, registration N707KD, remains at Juan Manuel Gálvez Airport in Roatan. If you fly onto the island for a holiday, look to your left as your plane lands. That’s it sitting north of the runway across from the small terminal. No one has claimed the half-million dollar jet. Curiously, it has not been seized and sold by authorities. It just sits.
And in the mystery of Gulfstream II N707KD there remain many more questions than there are answers.