Forty-two years ago, eleven young Guyanese men and women, mostly students on scholarships from the Cuban government perished in one of the worst Cuban air disasters in history. Guyanese will always remember Wednesday October 6, 1976 as one of the most catastrophic days. Their kith and kin died tragically when two bombs exploded on a Cuban airline flight CU455.
The Cuban DC 8 passenger aircraft had left Guyana for Trinidad and then on to the Seawell International Airport in Barbados which was renamed the Sir Grantley Adams International Airport that same year.
The tragedy that struck our brothers and sisters remained etched in the minds of most Guyanese. It was a very solemn and surreal moment for Guyanese. The late President Forbes Burnham, with tears in his eyes, asked the nation to pray for the deceased and not forget them.
As reported, the plane arrived in Barbados safely, but shortly after it departed from Barbados, a bomb located in the aircraft’s rear section of the plane exploded. Captain Wilfredo Perez radioed and informed the control tower in Barbados of an emergency and requested immediate landing. As the pilot steered the plane towards Sea-well International airport, another bomb exploded which caused the plane to descend rapidly.
Realizing that a successful landing at Seawell Airport was not possible, the Captain skillfully and courageously guided the aircraft away from Paradise beach which was packed with tourists, towards the Atlantic Ocean where the plane crashed. All 73 passengers and crew on board died. Among them were 57 Cubans, five Koreans and 11 Guyanese, six of whom were students going to Cuba to study medicine and engineering.
It was a sad day for Guyana, Cuba and the region which for the first time had experienced such tragedy. On the plane were 24 young Cuban athletes of the Cuban national fencing team, who along with their managers had won gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship games? The young athletes proudly wore their gold medals as they boarded the aircraft.
The crash sent shockwaves throughout Guyana causing many to weep openly in the streets of Georgetown. It was the first terrorist attack on an aircraft in the Caribbean and was swiftly condemned by the leaders of the region. However, Fidel Castro and Forbes Burnham thought otherwise. They were convinced that the United States government was in some way or another responsible for the attack and they were right.
They claimed that the bombing of the plane was carried by the imperial forces in the United States and vowed to get to the bottom of it. After a thorough investigation, it turned out that both leaders were correct.
Subsequently, the evidence revealed that several CIA-backed anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the U.S. conspired with members of the Venezuela Secret Police to bomb the Cuban aircraft to protest Castro’s dictatorial policies in Cuba.
In 2005, the CIA admitted that it had solid evidence as early as June 1976 of plans by Cuban exile groups in Miami to bomb a Cuban airline but did not share the information with Cuba, which at the time was a nemesis to the US.
The four men who joined the plane in Trinidad and disembarked in Barbados were arrested and charged by the U.S. government with the murder of the 73 passengers on the Cuban airline.
On their 42nd death anniversary, the nation remembers Margaret Bradshaw, Sabrina Harrypaul, Seshnarine Kumar, Ann Nelson, Eric Norton, Raymond Persaud, Gordon Sobha, Rawle Thomas, Rita Thomas, Violet Thomas and Jacqueline Williams—who perished on that tragic day.
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