Although the shadow-war in Ukraine probably comes to mind as the most hazardous to aircraft in recent times, a quiet war over Venezuela's air sovereignty has been almost as deadly. The downing of a Sabreliner jet is just the latest example of that country's ongoing counter-narcotics operation that has seen multiple aircraft shot down this year and over a dozen last year alone.
Interestingly enough, the Sabreliner in question appears to have had its vertical stabilizer almost sheared off. Still, the tough Cold War era business jet was able to make an emergency landing intact. It seems like the damage was applied intentionally as an attempt to disable, but not destroy the aircraft. It also seems that at least one, and possibly two other aircraft were shot down on the same day by the Venezuelan Air Force, which continues a rapid trend of shoot downs within the last month. On November 3rd, a King Air 200 was shot down as well and less than a week ago , yet another twin engine private aircraft was intercepted by the Venezuelan Air Force, with devastating results:
Due to its location near the nexus of South and Central America, Venezuelan airspace has been prime drug trafficking territory for decades, although the hardline measure of shooting down non-responsive aircraft, or those thought to be smuggling drugs, has only come to pass over the last couple of years.
The 'Law of Control for the Integral Defense of Airspace,' as it is known in Venezuela, was originally put forth by the now deceased Hugo Chavez in 2011, and was officially ratified after his death.
Countries in the region, including Mexico, where some of the aircraft used on supposed smuggling runs have been registered, have demanded that Venezuela explain how it came to the conclusion that certain aircraft are transporting drugs. Additionally, there are some fears that an aircraft not associated with drug trafficking will be downed by accident under the country's hard-line air sovereignty policy. Meanwhile, Caracas seems uninterested in satisfying external pleas for transparency and cooperation.
Flying narcotics within an airspace where a sovereign country with a modern air force has proven time and time again that doing so could easily lead to death and the total loss of the aircraft used and the payload being transported has not seemed to slow the cartels' airborne logistics machine down, in fact quite the opposite. It will be interesting to see if this recent rash of shoot-downs will deter future smuggling runs.
Then again, seeing how lucrative the cocaine trade is, I highly doubt it.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com