Escuadrilla Pro Faro de Colón in Peru (English)

In December 1937, the Peruvian capital received the visit of a delegation of aviators from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, who were travelling across Latin America on a good will raid aboard four aircraft. This flight, officially christened as Escuadrilla Binacional Pro Faro de Colón, was created after an initiative launched by Federico Laredo Bru and Rafael Trujillo, the presidents of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, backed by the Cuban Army Chief of Staff, General Fulgencio Batista, and the chief of the Cuban navy, Colonel Ángel A. González. The objective of the creation of this escadrille was to visit major Latin American capital cities in order to gather funds for the construction of a monumental lighthouse in the city of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, as a celebration for the arrival of Genovese navigator Cristóbal Colón to America.

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Stinson Reliant SR-9 “Santa Maria” seen parked at Limatambo international airport in December 1937. Source: IEHAP

The “Pro-Faro de Colón Squadron” aircraft flight was composed by three Stinson Reliant SR-9 from the Cuban armed forces christened with the names of La Pinta, La Niña and Santa María, in reference to the vessels used by the Genovese navigator in his odyssey. A Curtiss Wright CW-19R from the Dominican military aviation and christened as “Columbus” completed the flight. Aboard the aircraft composing the escadrille were the following men:

Colón: Major Frank A. Féliz Miranda, formation leader, and Sergeant Major Ernesto Tejada (radio operator).

Santa María: Lieutenants Antonio Menéndez Peláez and Manuel Naranjo.

La Niña: Lieutenants Feliciano Risetch Amat, Roberto Medina.

La Pinta: Lieutenants Alfredo Jiménez Alum, Pedro Castillo and Mr. Frank of Lugo Viñas (journalist).

On December 15, and after visiting the republics of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, the flight took-off from the city of La Paz, capital of Bolivia, bound to Lima, in Peru, the next scheduled stop. While no problems were found during the route, as the formation was about 300 south of the Peruvian capital a sandstorm with heavy winds- locally known as Paracas – suddenly appeared in the path of the formation, forcing the pilots of “Colon” and La Pinta to perform emergency landings at the city of Pisco. La Niña and its crew, in the meantime, disappeared in the sand clouds and its location became unknown. Only the “Santa Maria” was able to reach the Peruvian capital on schedule and landed at Las Palmas airfield at 1320 hours of the same day.

The next morning, and under more auspicious weather conditions, Jiménez and Feliz took off from Pisco at 0830hrs aboard the Colón and La Pinta, in search for La Niña and its crew. A half an hour reconnaissance flight around the area proved unsuccessful and both pilots then headed north to Las Palmas airfield, landing at this location at 1055hrs. An intense search was then launched looking to discover the whereabouts of the missing aircraft and everybody was expecting the worst. After a day and a half, La Niña crew finally managed to contact their comrades in Lima after fixing their radio, which was damaged during landing, reporting that they were forced to deviate from their original flightpath due to the severity of the sand storm and, low on fuel, they had performed an emergency landing on a farm field in the San Juan Valley, located south of Lima.

After reorganizing in Las Palmas, the group took off again landing in Limatambo international airport, where the aircraft were stored and provided with maintenance and repairs. It was only then when the Caribbean aviators began their scheduled activities in accordance of their program. Finally, after finishing with their protocol activities in Peruvian territory the Escuadrilla Pro Faro de Colón took off from Limatambo at 0815hrs of December 26 heading northbound for the city of Bogotá.

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Curtiss Wright CW-19R “Colón” seen at Las Palmas shortly after its arrival in December 16, 1937. Source: IEHAP

On December 29, and after completing the required inspections and repairs on their airframes, the flight took-off from El Techo airport in Bogotá bound to El Guabito airport in Cali, where the aircraft were refuelled and inspected prior to the long flight to the city of Panama, their next scheduled  stop. Tragedy, however, awaited in the proximities. Shortly after leaving El Guabito and while over the Valley of Cauca, the formation ran into and storm front, which disrupted their navigation, affecting the pilot’s visibility and forcing the group to disperse. Thanks to the better performance of its CW-19R, Maj. Miranda was able to climb above the storm and avoid the danger but the Cubans, flying older aircraft with more modest flight characteristics, were forced to press into the storm, unaware of the fact that they had entered into a deadly a cul-de-sac formed by a valley with very high mountains and crashing to their deaths in the mountains near the town of Felidia, in the western cordillera. Flying overhead, Miranda mistaken the explosions caused by the crashing Cuban aircraft with thunders and lightnings from the ongoing storm. Maj. Miranda, accompanied by Sergeant Major Ernesto Tejada, were the sole survivors from this endeavour and arrived in Panama City, ignoring the misfortune that had ended the lives of their companions. Their aircraft, the CW-19R Colón, is still preserved today in Dominica as a piece of great historical importance.

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Amaru Tincopa es un historiador aeronáutico peruano miembro de número del Instituto de Estudios Histórico Aeroespaciales del Perú. Ha publicado numerosos textos relacionados a la historia de la aviación peruana tanto en forma de libros como de articulos en diversas revistas especializadas en materia aeronáutica.

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