Pablo Escobar’s Smugglers Plane Wreck, The Bahamas

The sunken smugglers plane, off the coast of Norman’s Cay

photography by: Craig Hatfield/ Flickr

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On first glance, the low-key island of Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas might seem like a typical tranquil speck of sand in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Nevertheless, during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was a no man's land, ruled by the infamous Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel which made it a refueling and transshipment base for aircrafts smuggling cocaine into the US. When one of those planes missed the island’s airstrip, it crashed into the nearby lagoon, where it still serves as the only evidence of the place’s bygone era.

Nestled about 70 kilometers southeast of Nassau, Norman’s Cay is a 10 kilometer long and 30-meter-wide sandy island in the northern segment of the Exuma archipelago. Despite its currently peaceful appearance, in 1978, the island was used as a logistic center for Medellín drug cartel, after being gradually purchased by Carlos Lehder, the right-hand man of Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s most infamous drug lord.


This base of operations was founded and operated by Lehder, who expanded the cay’s small airstrip to fit his growing fleet, whereby he smuggled shipments of cocaine destined for the US market. At its heyday, the airport was incessantly frequented by aircrafts for refueling on their way from Colombia to the US state of Florida and vice versa. To ward off any potential threats to Lehder’s incredibly lucrative business, the cay was regularly patrolled by vicious attack dogs as well as dozens of guards, armed from head to foot.


Due to the absence of law-enforcement, Norman’s Cay quickly became an extraterritorial enclave where sex and drug parties took place almost every day. In fact, Carlos Toro, a friend of Lehder who happened to be in some of those dubious gatherings described the island as Sodom and Gomorrah.


On November 15th 1980, what was supposed to be another routine flight transporting cocaine went wrong, when the Curtiss C-46 Commando missed the runway by a whisker. The WWII-era aircraft subsequently crashed into the cay’s surrounding shallow sandbanks. Miraculously, not only the accident had zero casualties, but also the millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics were salvaged shortly after.


While Lehder’s illicit business was driven out of the area a couple of years later under the pressure of the US government, the sunken fuselage remained untouched, ultimately becoming home for a glut of sea creatures. As of today, the relatively offbeat site is occasionally visited by intrepid divers who wish to witness firsthand the only vestige of the island’s notorious past.

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