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Panic aboard the plane shot in Culiacán: “We were about to take off and the shots started”

The video is only 20 seconds long. The passengers of Aeroméxico flight AM 165 bound for Mexico City lived this Thursday morning the terror of the violence that has been unleashed after the recapture of Ovidio Guzmán, in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Lying on the ground, men, women and children take cover between the frightened seats, their faces full of panic. Outside, the detonations do not stop. “Why?” a frightened girl is heard saying. “Get down, get down,” a man replies. “Why, mom?” he says the little girl again between tears. The plane that was located on the runway was hit by bullets that hit the fuselage. “We were about to take off and the bullets started,” says David Téllez, the passenger who has recorded those moments of anguish inside the plane. He, his wife and his three children, the children heard crying in the video, were returning home after spending the family Christmas vacation.

Minutes before, two Mexican Air Force planes, four single-seaters and a helicopter landed on the runway. “They put someone on those planes, I imagine that’s who they came for,” says Téllez, 42, who watched the entire scene from his seat waiting to take off. In one of the aircraft, Guzmán was transferred to Mexico City. The military planes were fired upon by organized crime that had a confrontation on the runway with elements of the Army. The attack ended up also hitting the commercial plane. After 9:00 in the morning, the commander of the Aeroméxico flight announced to the passengers that due to the violent events that were taking place, it was necessary to return to the terminal. The plane could not take off in those conditions. Although neither passengers nor crew were injured after the shooting, the company decided to cancel all its flights at Sinaloa airports. The measure was also replicated by VivaAerobús and Volaris.

The hail of bullets unleashed panic not only in the fifty passengers on Flight 165, but also in the people who were in the terminal building. As happened to Ernesto Ramos, a 27-year-old photographer from Culiacán who arrived at 6:50 in the morning on a flight from Mexico City, unaware that he was landing in something resembling a war zone. “When we arrived, the National Guard suggested that we stay sheltered because it was very dangerous, but they did not give us any more information. Through the internet we began to see what was happening,” says Ramos.

In the photo, the plane of Aeroméxico flight 165 that was shot when it was preparing to take off, this Thursday.Photo: david tellez | Video: RR H.H.

The photographer and his friend tried to reach another friend’s house on foot, but had to run back when the attack on the Air Force plane began. “It was a very tense moment. People ran inside the terminal and went up to the second floor to take shelter”, recalls the photographer. Uncertainty and fear invaded everything. In the distance, the photographer recalls that several columns of black smoke could be seen coming from the capital. The gang of Los Chapitos, one of the factions of the Sinaloa Cartel, let chaos spread with lead and fire in response to the capture of their leader. “People from a restaurant closed the blinds of the establishments and told us: we are getting messages that the bad guys are already here. I suggest that you put your family in a bathroom and don’t go out,” says David Téllez. Although the National Guard had blocked the way and was guarding the airport, the narco’s shots sounded very close.

At about 10:00 in the morning, Ramos says that the shots could be heard more and more. “About 10 people hid behind a column. At that moment you are expecting the worst, it was hell”, says the photographer and remembers something else: “I marked my sister in case something happened. We thought that they were about to enter and you know that those people are not going to respect you… I did think that we could die”.

As the hours passed, the information was trickling down. The images of the arrest and those of the riots were mixed with other false information that began to circulate on the networks. For example, a video in which it is said that a group of armed people had taken over the airport terminal. “Those images are false, armed men never entered,” says Ramos.

After more than 12 hours of waiting, some 300 people are preparing to spend the night of Three Kings stranded in the Culiacán terminal. David Téllez says that the airline has distributed water and food to the passengers, waiting for more details of what is happening in the country to be known. “We are all aware of social networks,” adds Ernesto Ramos.

The local authorities recommend that the population not go out into the streets because there are still burning vehicles and drug checkpoints. The National Guard that guards the airport explains to travelers that if they leave the area they do so “at their own risk.” Ernesto Ramos has managed to take refuge at a friend’s house one kilometer from the terminal, while David Téllez continues at the airport with his family until they can board the next plane. He never thought that his vacation would end in the nightmare that Culiacán became this January 5th. His video, which has gone around the world, is a clear reflection of how violence in Mexico reaches all corners of society. He too on board a plane.

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