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Icarus: the Carlos Menem Jr. helicopter crash
The story about a President's son who was likely shot down in a helicopter 28 years ago
Welcome Avatar! The 1990s in Argentina are a gift that keeps on giving in terms of insane stories, and this story is no different. I will dive into the events that lead up to the crash, and we’ll see some plausible theories around the accident / shooting down of the helicopter of a sitting President’s son. Some of the officials involved in investigating the accident did not survive the aftermath.
I'm learning to fly
But I ain't got wings
Is the hardest thing
— Tom Petty / Jeff Lynne
The “neoliberal” 90’s
In the 90’s the peso might have been stable 1:1 with a US token and inflation was stable, but politics definitely was not.
In the years leading up to the crash, there were 2 main terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires during Menem’s first presidency: one in 1992 (Israeli Embassy Bombing) and the 1994 AMIA Bombing (Jewish Community Center), where many people lost their lives.
Autist note: if you’re interested in this story I highly recommend watching the Nisman series on Netflix, which goes into detail about what happened, and the main prosecuter Nisman. There is still no clarity about who was behind the bombings, some say Iran, others Hezbollah, and other versions mention Syria (President Menem’s parent’s were Syrian, he was raised as a Muslim but later converted to catholicism).
The death of Carlos Menem Jr. and pilot Silvio Oltra after their helicopter crashed in Ramallo is still surrounded by uncertainty, in Argentine politics and public opinion.
The hypotheses of the accident or the attack have been considered over and over again in the last 28 years and even the former president Carlos Menem himself, who died in 2021, changed his speech in relation to the tragedy right before kicking the bucket.
Carlos Jr. (Carlitos) died at the age of 26, at noon on Wednesday, March 15, 1995, after the Bell 206B JetRanger III helicopter he was flying crashed on the side of Ruta Nacional 9, at kilometer 211.5, between Ramallo and San Nicholas.
According to the official version, the helicopter collided with some medium voltage cables, 11 meters high, and then went down into the pastures.
Pilot Oltra died on the spot, while the son of the president was transferred to a hospital nearby.
Attack or accident?
At first, President Menem considered that it had been an accident, although there was talk of a "third attack", a hypothesis raised by his wife, referencing the previous 2 terrorist attacks on the Jewish community mentioned above.
President Menem addressing the nation after losing his son in the accident (in Spanish)
The former first lady believes that three groups of snipers targeted the helicopter with FAL rifles.
Along these lines, a 1997 police report concluded that the helicopter had "perforations, deformations, and irregularities attributable to impacts from firearm projectiles."
Leading up to the crash, Carlos Jr.'s chief guard had ordered a reduction in the number of officers protecting him.
More than half of Carlitos Menem's custodians decided not to accompany him that morning, making excuses for the most unusual issues, such as headaches or family problems.
The few custodians who went with him that morning abandoned him 20 km before the helicopter crash site, claiming a flat tire, which was later proven false.
Carlitos mother claims to have heard an audio of Carlitos calling one of his bodyguards, who was behind on the route due to a flat tire, supposedly telling him right before the fall that his helicopter was being shot down.
However, this recording never appeared and no witness declared hearing shots fired. The autopsy reports on the body of Menem Jr. did not show gunshot wounds either, according to the Justice department, and one of the doctors who attended Carlitos confirmed this.
After the chopper crashed, folks at the scene stole $26,800 from the crash site, together with Carlitos’ black glasses and Rolex watch, which the Buenos Aires police later recovered and returned to his father, in an operation that some considered suspicious.
Witnesses getting Clintoned?
There were 55 people who saw the chopper cruise at a lower than normal. Up to two years after the tragedy, there were between 11 and 14 dead witnesses, a fact that some consider as suspicious as the tragedy of Carlitos itself.
The 14 witnesses who, in one way or another, fed the hypothesis of the attack, died one after another. This could of course be a coincidence, but it’s strange that nothing happened to those who maintained that the crash was an accident.
Among them, the caretaker of the field of the helicopter crash, named Lorenzo Epifanio Siri, 67, who lost his life a month and three days after giving testimony after being run over while crossing the same highway as the scene of the events.
Another one was Miguel Luckow, an expert designated by the Air Force and the first to arrive at the scene of the crash. He assured the prosecutor of the case, Amalia Sívori, that "from what I could see, this was not an accident."
A few days after assuring Prosecutor Sívori that for him the crash of the helicopter had not been the result of an accident —on September 26 of that same year— Miguel Luckow was shot to death in front of his house when he was about to enter. The police summary indicates homicide and robbery, but Luckow wasn't even robbed of his wallet.
In a strange coincidence, the man who killed him, Angel Daniel Antakle, was killed two days later —on 09/28/95— without being able to provide testimony.
A short time after that, Luckow’s assistant Félix Bonachera, would also die under strange circumstances.
Héctor Bassino was the General Commissioner of the Buenos Aires Police who was sent to the scene of the accident. Bassino was the head of the force's Helicopter Division and was the first to review Carlos Menem Junior's helicopter. He was later shot in an “attempted robbery”.
Jorge Artoni was the former secretary of Andrés Antonieti, Secretary of Security. He claimed to have heard his boss talk about the third passenger who was in Carlitos' helicopter. He denounced that they had made her pass through customs at the request of Menem Junior some 15 or 20 days before the helicopter crashed. On June 2, 1997, Artoni was shot at the door of his house, which caused him to be hospitalized in a complete state of shock. Days before he had a phone call with a threat to his life.
Hugo Raúl Bocolino was a truck driver and an involuntary witness of the shooting at at Menem Junior's helicopter (he told his wife Beatriz). The following Thursday, one day before the supposed home arrival of her husband, Beatríz would receive the worst call of her life: her husband had been shot in the face. Shortly after she would find out that there were plans to file a legal case saying that Hugo, her spouse, had committed suicide.
Rodolfo Cortese: He was the one who brought the cassette to Carlitos’ mother where the screams of Carlos Menem Junior are heard before hitting the cornfield. Cortese died under strange circumstances and was immediately cremated without permission from his family.
And these are just a few of the most bizarre stories of the witnesses. Martin Scorcese would have a field day with this script. Just imagine the sequence of events with a Rolling Stones tune in the background, and witnesses getting blasted left and right.
The case surrounding the death of Menem and Oltra was archived in 1998 by Judge Villafuerte Ruzo, until Yoma submitted a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and it was finally reopened in 2010.
Six years later, the former president changed his hypothesis and maintained that what happened to his son had been a "criminal attack". He never explained why he changed his mind.
In 2014, new investigator Enrique Prueger confirmed that the helicopter had been shot down.
Menem's ex-wife, who at the time of the tragedy was divorced from the president, spoke of a "third attack" because she believed that its objective was to weaken the then President. In turn, her lawyers attributed the death of her son to the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA.
“I still doubt that the skull they analyzed is that of my son. I am a mother who is going to die without knowing the truth. What do they want to hide from a mother who 25 years later is waiting with a mutilated corpse?"2
— Carlitos mother in her 2020 interview.
Both previous attacks were direct messages to then President Carlos Menem and, in both, the president made that very clear.
"They did this to me," he said in 1992 when the explosion occurred at the embassy. Two years later, faced with the next attack at the AMIA bombing, his words would be just as revealing, if not more: "Please forgive me."3
Why did Menem apologize if no one had accused him of anything? Who were they and what messages did they want to bring across by committing these terrible attacks?
These are still open questions without clear answers, and now that most of the people involved have passed on, they will likely never be answered.
See you in the Jungle, anon!
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Translated from the original Spanish: “Menem me dijo que mi hijo tenía un tiro en la frente. Esa es la verdad”
Translated from the original Spanish: “Yo aún dudo de que el cráneo que analizaron sea el de mi hijo. Soy una madre que va a morir sin saber la verdad. ¿Qué quieren ocultarle a una madre que 25 años después espera con un cadáver mutilado?”"
Translated from Spanish: “Esto me lo hicieron a mí” and “Les pido perdón”.