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Iceman

October 3, 2012

NOTE: “Iceman” is not the person in this story’s real call sign. Everything else in the story is true to the best of my knowledge. “Iceman” asked me not to use his real FAP call sign so in honor of the “Top Gun” movie re-release I replaced the actual FAP call sign with “Iceman”.

landing_in_Piura_SPUR

On final for Rwy 19 in Piura

We turned final for landing in Piura, Perú (SPUR). I had been doing most of the radio work since we left Independence but my copilot now called Piura tower using his old Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) call sign:

“Piura tower, Iceman turning final Rwy ONE-NINE.”

The runway shook and the dust blew away.
Sleepy airport hangars jumped to attention.
Saggy roof lines straightened out.
Iceman is back!

* * *

That morning we had departed from Cali and stopped for fuel in Guayaquil. We had run into some issues in Colombia and after a few stressful days in Colombia we were happy to be back in the air for the last remaining legs of our flight to Lima, Peru.

never_been_happier_to_reach_angel

Approaching “ANGEL”, the navigation point on the boundary between Colombia and Ecuador.

The airspace boundary between Colombia and Ecuador along the route we were flying is a navigation point called “ANGEL”. As we approached “ANGEL” my copilot asked if the Galapagos Islands would display on the Garmin G1000 map. I expanded the range on the G1000.

When the Galapagos came into view on the map Iceman said “I flew there.”

OK.

I sort of shrugged. Many people visit the Galapagos nowadays. Patricia and I have been wanting to take a vacation there ourselves.

“I flew to the Galapagos in the Mirage during the war with Ecuador.”

I looked at Iceman in disbelief. Then he told me the story of the FAP Mirages that flew to the Galapagos during the Paquisha War in 1981:

There had been a long running territorial dispute between Peru and Ecuador. The dispute was not formally resolved until 1998. The Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) had historically been one of the strongest air forces in Latin America. When the Paquisha War broke out, Peru received intelligence that the Fuerza Aérea Ecuatoriana (FAE) had moved many of its aircraft to the Galapagos as a defensive maneuver. To verify the intelligence received, the FAP decided to send a Canberra reconnaissance aircraft (a variant of the venerable English Electric Canberra bomber) to the Galapagos. The unarmed reconnaissance aircraft was to be escorted by 2 of the FAP’s Mirage 5P fighters.

At the time the FAP had moved most of its aircraft from airbases near the Ecuadorian border back to Chiclayo, further away from the border. The 2 Mirages were to take off from Chiclayo, fly to the Galapagos and return to Chiclayo. Due to the long distance of the flight and fuel weight, the Mirages carried no weapons other than ammunition in their guns.

When the aircraft reached the Galapagos the reconnaissance Canberra quickly took its pictures and turned back to Peru. The Mirages lingered over the Galapagos to provide protection for the departing Canberra. The FAE sent up 6 interceptor aircraft, 3 FAE aircraft pursued each of the FAP Mirages.

Iceman briefly engaged the FAE aircraft but outnumbered, with no armament and precious little fuel there was nothing the Mirages could do. Iceman dove down to “the deck”, zigzagging just above the Pacific Ocean to shake the FAE aircraft. The FAE aircraft gave up pursuit.

The FAP Canberra had now reached a reasonably safe distance from the target and the FAP Mirages turned back to Chiclayo. When reaching Chiclayo the Mirages were desperately low on fuel but due to the war time traffic they were forced to hold before landing at Chiclayo.

By the time the Mirages were finally cleared to land they were so desperately low on fuel that Iceman and his wingman executed their break and landed simultaneously, in opposite directions, on Chiclayo’s only runway. On the runway both aircraft ran out of fuel and had to be towed back to the hangars.

This is the story as told to me by Iceman himself. I believe every word he said.

I asked Iceman if he realized how dangerous the mission was beforehand. He replied that it was a volunteer mission, when you really believe in something you are willing to give everything for it.

Iceman shook his head.

“Man, I was only 24 at the time.”

Fascinated though I was, I wanted to break the serious mood so I said “Just be sure not to tell anybody in Guayaquil about this, ok?”

Guayaquil is a nice place, I’ve stopped there several times now. The service is great, the people are friendly. Peru and Ecuador are like Portugal and Spain nowadays, or Ontario and Quebec. It’s practically unimaginable now they fought wars as recently as 1995. But I’m sure some of the people we ran into at Guayaquil airport had to be on the opposite side of the conflict. Maybe the weather briefers we shook hands with, the marshallers, the fuel truck drivers, who knows?

I never got to ask Iceman, what would he do if he ran into one of the guys who was sent up to shoot him down? Maybe some AeroGal pilot, or one of the LAN Ecuador crew who were parked next to us? Would you shake their hand and have a beer?

What could you do?

Iceman left the FAP 20 or so years ago and I don’t think he’d flown any aircraft from the time he left the FAP until he accompanied me on this flight to Peru. But once we got to Piura, tower controllers who probably weren’t even born when the Paquisha War happened, they knew the name Iceman with great respect.

Iceman spent most of the time since he left the FAP in the US, he has a family, a job, a business. I wonder how many people never knew what an extraordinary thing he did. How many guys at work shook his hand not having the faintest idea?

c172_and_B767_on_ramp_in_guayaquil_SEGU

On the ramp at Guayaquil, Ecuador (SEGU)

Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) Canberra

Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) Canberra bombers, now mothballed at Pisco airport.

map_sphi_segs

Map of route Chiclayo to Galapagos.

fuerza aerea peru fap mirage

Fuerza Aerea Peru (FAP) Mirage

Route picture courtesy of Great Circle Mapper. Mirage picture from here.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Capt Pablo G. permalink
    August 13, 2013 4:38 am

    I flew in FAE, now i live and fly in US, i dont thimk that it could be possible a simultaneous landing in chiclayo, i think that at the moment they where over galapagos they got low fuel, and all the other stuff pure fiction, i have never heard about that in all my career during 20 years in the Ecuadorian Air Force, even though, nice and entertaining to hear about it. Greetings.
    Warrior

  2. August 13, 2013 3:04 pm

    Pablo: thanks for the comment. All I can say is I have no proof but I didn’t hear this from somebody who heard it from somebody type thing. The man who told me the story was one of the Mirage pilots and if you were sitting in the cockpit of that little 172 when he was telling the story, I think you would believe every word of it too.

    Having said that, what I care about the most (especially spending as much time in Peru as I do) is that governments of Latin America have largely moved beyond all that armed conflict of years past and for the most part reasonable dialog prevails.

  3. December 19, 2013 6:24 am

    This is extremely interesting. I am writing a book at the moment compiled from personal experiences of Canberra crews from around the world. Whilst researching stories about FAE Canberra operations, I came cross this post. I’d like to do some more digging on it, because if it can be verified, it would make a superb addition to my book. I have some material from FAP Canberra pilots…do you think Iceman would know the name of the crew involved?

    • Keith Stilwell permalink
      January 27, 2021 4:21 am

      The details of the FAP Canberra photo-reconnaissance flight on 21 January 1981 over the Ecuadorian ‘Seymour Air Base’ on the Galapagos archipelago, accompanied partially by two Mirage M5P3s, is documented in the Helion & Company publication -Latin American No 17- ‘Air Wars between Ecuador and Peru, Volume 2: Falso Paquisha! Aerial Operations over the Condor Mountain Range, 1981.’ All of the pilot’s names are provided in the publication. The account does vary from the above as the two Mirage fighters were armed with R-3S Air-to-Air Missiles and they had to turn back prior to reaching the Galapagos Islands due to low fuel. There is no mention in this account of encountering any Ecuadorian aircraft, nor of the return landings. The Canberra completed its recon mission showing no significant military build-up on the Island at that time. The strategic importance of the Galapagos is because of its location on the mercantile shipping lanes coming out of the Panama Canal supplying both Ecuador and Peru. Ecuador would later position aircraft on the Galapagos Islands.

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