Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Cubana Airlines Disaster Monument

On the west coast beach of Paynes Bay in the parish of St. James, there stands a monument in memory of an aircraft disaster off our island back in 1976. 
It's hard to pass it by without sparing a thought for the souls that perished so senselessly that afternoon.

On this peaceful beachfront.............
.......with gentle waves and puffy clouds scuttling across the sky....
we have this reminder.
A reminder of the horrific terrorist act on that afternoon.
Before the word "terrorist" became an everyday word, there was terror in our skies....hard to believe isn't it?

On the afternoon of October 6, 1976, as my dad drove me home from school, we heard on the radio that a Cubana airline had crashed off the west coast of Barbados.
Even though I was in secondary school at the time my young brain still could not fathom a plane crash of such magnitude. It was something that one expected to take place in another part of the world, but not here in peaceful easy-going Barbados.
It was the worst act of aviation terrorism at the time...the first time a civilian aircraft was bombed by terrorists in the western hemisphere.

On that sunny Wednesday afternoon the Cubana de Aviacion ‘Flight CU-455 was a flight leaving Barbados for Jamaica, part of its scheduled route.  Originating in Guyana via Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica it was headed to Havana, Cuba.
Little did the 73 passengers aboard the Douglas DC-8 know that they would not touch down in Jamaica as planned.
 All 73 passengers, including the flight crew lost their lives that afternoon....among them 57 Cubans (which included government officials as well as 24 members of the 1975 National Cuban Fencing team who were returning home after winning all gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championships, many were teenagers), 11 Guyanese (including medical students on their way to study in Cuba) and 5 North Koreans (including government officials).

Eight minutes after takeoff from Seawell Airport (now Grantley Adams International Airport) and at an altitude of 18,000 feet, the first bomb exploded in the rear lavatory of the aircraft.
At 1.24pm, the captain, Wilfredo Pérez radioed the control tower,  "Seawell! Seawell! CU-455 Seawell. . . !   We have an explosion on board, we are descending immediately!  We have fire on board!  We are requesting immediate landing!  We have total emergency!"
The plane went into a rapid descent, and the pilots struggled valiantly to return to the airport, but then the second bomb exploded.
 "Hit the water, Felo, Hit the Water," said the co-pilot.
Realising that the plane was about to crash the pilot turned the doomed aircraft away from the beach (Paradise Beach) filled with sunbathing tourists and turned towards the Atlantic Ocean instead.
Captain "Felo" as he was affectionately known did his best to save the plane and its passengers but it was too late.
The plane exploded and crashed into the sea just 5 miles offshore....there were no survivors.
Emergency rescue personnel headed out to the crash site where a horrific scene met them.
Several boaters went out to help that day to aid with the rescue efforts, including one of my dear friends who had a boat at the time, but it was too much for him to bear because of the mutilation that he saw that day.

The story came to light afterwards. The bombs had been carried on board by two terrorists Hernán Ricardo and Freddy Lugo in a tube of toothpaste and in a camera. They had boarded the flight in Trinidad bound for Barbados at 12.15pm.  Ricardo had traveled under a forged passport with a forged name.  They had sat in the middle of the plane. During the flight they had placed the explosives in the rear lavatory and underneath the seat of Freddie Lugo.  They both got off the plane in Barbados when it landed and checked into a local hotel under assumed names.
They then boarded a return flight to Trinidad on British West Indies Airlines that very evening. 
Their other accomplices to this dastardly act of terrorism were Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.
You may read more on their activities in the links provided below.....but beware an incredible horror story awaits you.

The inscription reads: "In memory of those who lost their lives in the bombing of the Cubana DC-8 aircraft, flight CU-T1201 which crashed in the sea off Barbados on October 6th, 1976
May their souls rest in peace."
(Spanish Translation follows)

The names of all those that perished that day are engraved on the sides of the memorial.

The Cubana Monument was designed by Virgil Broodhagen, the son of renowned Barbadian sculptor Karl Broodhagen.
The 11 foot obelisk was erected at Payne's Bay in 1998 in memory of all those who lost their lives that day as a result of the anti-Castro attack. 
 The monument was unveiled on August 1, 1998 (Emancipation Day) during the visit of Cuban President Fidel Castro to Barbados.
In 2005, it was unveiled in a formal ceremony witnessed by the Cuban President Fidel Castro and other Caricom Heads of Government who were on the island attending the annual summit.

Every year, on October 6th, Barbadians remember the victims of the Cubana air disaster by laying wreaths at the Cubana Monument in memory of those who lost their lives.
This year is 39 years of remembrance. 
May their souls rest in peace.

Wikipedia has the in depth details here.
More info here and youtube video here.







  1. I have to admit that I had forgotten about that terrorist atrocity. In fact given the timing and what I was doing then I may not even have read about it at the time. The one thing that seems clear is that nothing, or very little anyway, about the whole incident and those responsible (not just those who committed the act) is straightforward.

    1. GB to my innocent little mind back then it was a horrific and unbelievable incident, and even now in these days of terrorists it still seems so terribly awful to sacrifice innocent lives for a cause like that...shaking my head.

  2. Well-known flute player Ronald Snijders from Surinam (now living in Delft, the Netherlands) left the plane at Bridgetown. Amsterdam October 6, 2015

    1. Hi John, thanks for dropping by and for adding another insight into the tragedy...Mr. Snijders was very lucky.
      I will have to check out his music, I think I will enjoy it.


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