Upon boarding the plane, I headed for the rear of the craft. It was open seating, and we were free to choose. A young, attractive flight attendant approached me and encouraged me to sit in one of the more comfortable seats in the front. The plane had no first-class passengers, but did have a first-class section separated from the rest of the aircraft by a bulkhead. I sat in the fourth row on the aisle on the right side of the plane.
The flight from San Jose to Managua, Nicaragua, was a short 172 miles, and was smooth and comfortable. The sun shone brightly on the tarmac as we arrived at the Augusto Cesar Sandino Airport. From my seat I could see a sign that read BIENVENIDOS A LA TIERRA DE SANDINO (WELCOME TO THE LAND OF SANDINO). I was tempted to get off the plane to stretch and see if I could catch a glimpse of the Sandinista influence on the country. My desire to fall back asleep won out, though, and I stayed on the plane and dozed.
The 1980' s were a volatile period in Central America and Nicaragua was on center stage. The country was ruled by the Sandinistas, a revolutionary group that had seized power from the despotic Somoza family in 1979 after a violent revolution. The U.S. government had imposed an economic embargo on Nicaragua because of the leftist leanings of the Sandinista government and its alleged connections to Cuba and to the revolutionary forces in EI Salvador. The result was that the Nicaraguan national airline, Air Nica, was prohibited from flying into the United States. The embargo created more business for TAN SAHSA, a Honduran airline.
Flight #414 was a continuation flight to Miami after a stop in Honduras. While waiting for the journey to continue, I glanced down at the fuel truck next to the plane and saw a seemingly endless procession of passengers filing onto the aircraft.
The plane departed after some delay, and the routine nature of the flight continued. The next leg of the trip from Managua to Tegucigalpa was only 134 miles or thirty minutes by air. I expected to reach my destination by 8 A.M.
As the 727-200 climbed to eighteen thousand feet, weather conditions changed and the day took on a more ominous feel. Strong winds, thick clouds and occasional rain pelted us as we flew over a series of mountains between the two capital cities. I eavesdropped on several Americans sitting in front of me, employees of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). I was curious about what little I could snatch of their conversation. The aircraft continued to fly in and out of clouds, and the plane was quiet. Given the early morning hour of the flight, many of the passengers were sleeping or dozing as the aircraft approached Tegucigalpa.
After visiting the restroom, the flight attendant's voice boomed out of the intercom, "We are preparing to land in Tegucigalpa. Raise your table, put your seat in an upright position and fasten your seatbelts." Visibility was poor, and I had tired of looking out the window at clouds. Suddenly, I noticed a flash of green out of the comer of my eye.
"No, No, No-We're going to hit!" one of the Americans sitting in front of me screamed.
The impact was immediate as the 170,000 pound behemoth careened across the mountainous terrain at an approach speed of close to two hundred miles per hour. We were thrown into darkness. I heard the grotesque sound of metal scraping on earth while people screamed hysterically. My first and only thought was that this was it. I was surely going to die.