Ever want to hike to a crashed drug plane site on a tropical island in the Caribbean ? Me too! So I did. Just one of the many walks to be had on the island of Utila. Take a trek up to the airport and venture deep into the lush green jungles to find adventure, and a crashed drug plane.
What happened? It was a dark and stormy night, when a drug-smuggling cargo plane loaded with 1.7 tons of cocaine left a private airport in Venezuela headed (most likely) for Guatemala. Had it reached Guatemala, the cocaine would have been processed for sale in the US, as the story frequently goes. Beautiful Honduras is in a tough spot, used as a transit country in the South American drug trade, planes en route to deliver narcotics are known to make pit stops by night inside the country to refuel. It’s no secret the small island of Utila has been used for just this purpose many times. Everybody knows, including the guys in uniforms: the Honduran drug enforcement agency, the Honduran Navy, and the American DEA have had enough. On Sunday May 10th, 2009 they brought their posses together to take down an aircraft they had been tracking, sending a message to other would be traffickers wanting to use this small island as a gas station.
At 2 am, I’m sure the pilot thought he was just going to be stopping for a brief fill-up, maybe stretch his legs, quick bathroom break. Maybe say “Hi” to his buddy Juan. Instead, a high flying chase and a runway blocked by military lead the cocaine filled twin engine Jetstream 30 to run out of fuel and crash into the thick tropic jungle alongside the Utila airport runway. Three Colombian nationals were aboard; the pilot and co-pilot survived to be taken into custody, while a third man died on impact. What remains of the plane (following 6 years of scavengers) can still be found in the same place where it fell from the sky on that fateful night. Ask around, the locals have many stories to tell about this event.
So, why not go check it out!? Makes a great destination for a simple fun hike. Simple, if you follow these directions and not get lost, like so many groups before you have done.
Step One: Get to the airport. Tuk-tuk for 60 Lempiras. Rent an ATV or Moped. I took the third option and enjoyed the pleasant walk past the Mango Inn (keep left at the ‘Y’), past Dr. Johns and the Centro De Salud medical center. Past the Botanical Gardens. There is a small convenience store along the route, but it’s not always open. Do wear a hat and bring water, there’s not always shade on the walk despite all the tall majestic trees that surround. If successful in your mission, grab a post-hike beer at the airport bar — that’s after the hike is complete, definitely not before!
Step Two: Walk to the very end of the tarmac. Don’t even think of walking down any path that isn’t at the eastern END of the airport runway, unless you want to take an aimless walk in circles. In which case I suggest picking a hiking buddy that has just bought a new machete and is eager to forge new paths, combined with a tech enthusiast that has located the site on GPS , but having lost a data signal just “knows it’s around here somewhere”. It took us a good 3 hours to find the site using these methods. The hunt was a lot of fun, but all we had to do was…
Step Three: At the end of the runway turn left – heading north. Walk approximately 250 meters into the woods, keeping RIGHT on the path.
Step Four: Savor nature, just because. Have you ever stopped to admire the Bursera simaruba ? A.k.a the “Tourist Tree”? Nicknamed for the luminescent-like red peeling bark. I had a lot of time to admire the foliage while we were lost. The woods of Utila awaken the imagination, just to think that the entire island was once a coral reef submerged in the sea. The paths are a mix of earth and ironshore (jagged limestone) alive with hermit crabs, lizards, and giant spiders; decent footwear is essential. While you’re hanging out with the forest locals, look up to the tree tops to spot a wide variety of birds. Haters of the creepy crawlies fear not, there are NO venomous reptiles or lethal spiders on the island of Utila.
Step Six: FIND THIS TREE (pictured below) 250 meters in, TURN RIGHT INTO THE WOODS. This is the tricky part. To find the plane you’ll need to go off the path to your right into the woods. That’s where the guy with the new machete comes in super handy. This is what the special “marker-tree” looked like on the day of my hike in May of 2015. Kinda bald and sad looking, uninformed of it’s important role in this crashed drug plane hunt. If you want to give your GPS device a shot, here’s the coordinates: 16.117345°, -86.874931°
Lucky # Seven: Find the dang plane. Explore the site. Take awesome pictures.
So, there’s no wings left. And the cockpit is mostly gone. Scavengers have gone to town on this wreck, taking anything of value or use. For the best really: reuse, reduce! This girl thinks it’s a huge pile of metal — but still extremely cool and very much worth the trek. A great way to spend an early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is less intense. Bring a knife and you may be able to taste the wild papaya that grows in abundance. No, there is absolutely zero chance you’ll find any cocaine. Happy trekking!