Back in the dark and cold days of late November 1980 both Dutch photographer Rob Hemelrijk (24) and Hans Huizing (28) decided to make an aviation trip to Miami and Colombia with the intend off photographing the numerous interesting active vintage propliners and old jets that were still operating during that period.
At the time Rob was working in the aviation industry at Schiphol Aero-ground Services while Hans was owner of his own shoe shop in Haarlem. Hans organized the whole trip and arranged all the tickets and hotels. There first leg was flying onboard an Air Florida Douglas DC-10 from Amsterdam to Miami and to stay a couple of days in South Florida. Then they continued onwards from Miami to Bogota, via Panama City onboard an Air Panama Boeing B727-100 series. While staying in the bustling city of Bogota they slept at the Hotel "Presidente" down town Bogota. One of off the main missions in Colombia was a full day aircraft spotting at Bogota International airport and a flight to "La Vanquardia" Villavicencio airport as known as the DC-3 "Eldorado" of South America. The outbound flight to Villavicencio was onboard a "SATENA" British built Hawker Siddeley HS-748 and the return flight was on a "Aeropesca" 4 engine turbine Viscount 745D series.
Bogota El-Dorado International Airport
Without any guidance we left the departure waiting room onto the ramp of Bogota′s Aeropuerto El-Dorado in order to board our early morning SATENA flight ZR205 to Villavicencio on November 28 1980. The evening before we did check with SATENA if they flight was actually operated by the DC-4 "Skymaster" (C-54) and this was confirmed. So as we noticed a HS-748 and a DC-4 of SATENA parked next to each other, we climbed into the DC-4. However no passengers at all to be seen in the Douglas veteran, and it did not take long before a SATENA employee asked for our destination to Villavicencio…? No, no wrong aircraft and he pointed at the HS-748…
Departing Bogota around 06.50 local time, we arrived at 07.36 the jungle dawn covered picturesque aeropuerto of Villavicencio, home of several active DC-3 Dakota’s and other vintage soldiers.
Here we would spend the rest of the morning before returning to Bogota onboard a Vickers Viscount of AEROPESCA. Since we had a written permission to take photos on the ramp side, we easily got access.
Although the sun tried it′s best to break through the persistent jungle clouds, she was not our best friend that special day.
While taking some pictures of SADELCA DC-3 and DC-4, the chief engineer of that company proudly introduced me to his daughter, a robust Colombian beauty in the best years of her life. Sorry to say, but at this very moment on this holy ground I was not in the mood for any social talk whatever. I just wanted to admire some other beauties, much older of age than this attractive young lady, then at the unpaved ramp, Dakota′s of TRANSAMAZONICA,SELVA and EL VENADO could be seen, as well as a former LA URACCA Dart Herald and a DC-4 without titles.
During the morning a Curtiss C-46 of AEROPESCA and DC3’s of SATENA,TRANSAMAZONICA and ARCA arrived and departed, not without kicking up some dust from the unpaved ramp, leaving this lovely airport in a grey-yellow cloud for seconds. And believe it or not, around noon I was able to buy an ice lolly direct on the ramp. Now sitting in the grass next to a stripped DC-3 (HK-140) I enjoyed the good old aviation atmosphere of the scenery in front of me.
Colombia’s Amazon region makes up a vast percentage of the country, making waterway′s the main form of movement within the region. However due to the lack of roads, the Dakota′s are operating to dirty airstrips and bush clearings, providing vital social services to underdeveloped rural regions. Villavicencio plays a vital role as headquarter and main-port for these kinds of operations by air.
After a simple snack in the old school, small and primitive departure hall (still using an old fashion scale with weights for baggage weighing), it was already time to board our AEROPESCA flight RS217, operated by Viscount HK-1320. This particular plane crashed into a mountain only one year later.
During this Viscount flight I realized the great skills of Colombian pilots. A pilot in Europe is fulfilling a rather boring job compared to this Master Class of flying: piloting aged Douglas prop-liners, C-46′s and Viscounts in ever changing weather conditions and dangerous mountainous surroundings.
After only a 30 minutes flight we were back in Bogota. While sitting on a baggage claim we were moving into the arrival hall. VIVA COLOMBIA !!!
Postscript: our adventure in South America continued onwards Quito Ecuador, flying the "Avianca" & "Ecuatoriana de Aviación" mighty Boeing B-707s….but that′s another story.