For all the people Jerry dealt with, and those I've interviewed, there was one who remains an enigma. I discuss him in some detail in the book, but in this post he shall remain anonymous. After gathering all the evidence I could, I fretted about how I would treat him because he had been one of Jerry friends for a decade. I finally concluded I would just report what I knew, withhold my personal opinion, even soften Jerry's thoughts after 30 years of reflection, and let the reader make his own conclusion. With that, here's the story:
In the late 70s, a cocaine war was going on in Miami. Machine guns had hit the street and Colombians were being killed---by other Colombians. Longtime Colombian drug sellers were arriving from New York, augmented by illegals from places like Medellin and Cali. The price of cocaine was surging----Jerry made $2,000,000 for one plane load---and control was valuable enough to warrant murder. People were gunned down in mid-day and bodies were routinely found in canals. And Jerry had to walk a fine line between various factions.
But he was the delivery man, the point guard distributing the basketball to the stars, so for the most part he was left alone. Fly the plane, bring the white powder to south Florida, and collect his money. Do that and everything was fine.
Until it wasn’t.
It was a sunshine day when he and his co-pilot left Medellin and began the long journey to Madisonville, Tennessee. The plane was fully loaded, the fuel barrels were tied down, and the two men were in good spirits. The co-pilot has asked Jerry if he could stay behind to visit family in Atlanta and Jerry had agreed. The co-pilot did no flying, in fact, he wasn’t a pilot at all, his job simply to switch the fuel barrels and dump the empties into the ocean. And while having to do this by himself was an inconvenience, Jerry was certain he could handle it. He would pick up the man on the next trip.
They landed at dusk and rolled to a stop. There was a window of safety at the airport so Jerry expected no trouble. He bid goodbye to the co-pilot and said he hoped he enjoyed the visit, then he stretched his legs and ate something one of his men had brought. He watched as they unloaded the cocaine and placed it in the cars, then watched another man load the new fuel barrels into the plane. The fuel barrels were Jerry’s invention, much better than the fuel bladder some pilots used, which in his opinion was a bomb waiting to explode.
But there was one danger in the barrels; they had to be securely fastened so they wouldn’t slide around, upsetting the plane’s center of gravity. But his men were aware of this and no problem had ever existed in any of his flights.
When everything was ready, he took off. As he began to climb, he noticed a slight shift in the plane, a small shudder like a gust of wind had pushed under the wings. Then, the plane began tilting backwards and the stall warning signal blared in his ear. He knew immediately what was happening, the fuel barrels were sliding toward the rear of the plane. He fought the controls to level out the plane but it was difficult, and he feared he was actually going to tumble out of the sky. He brought forth all his knowledge of aviation, having experienced a lot of problems in flying marijuana out of the Jamaican mountains, and after nearly ten minutes he was able to gain control.
But there was another problem staring at him; the smell of fuel in the airplane. When he reached altitude, he engaged the autopilot and assessed the damage. One of the barrels had turned over and fuel was spilling out. Not only had the barrels not been secured properly, the hose connections were incorrectly attached.
He had no choice but to turn around and return to the airfield, which brought in play two major problems. One spark from the landing gear could turn the plane into a ball of fire. The second problem was that the plane had Colombian markings and by now people would be at the control tower, curious why someone would be landing this late.
Another issue was that someone had tried to get him killed.
(In the next post, I’ll continue the story.)