Dec 18, 2011

Catemaco and the Four Winds

In 1933, the somnolent village of Catemaco first made international headlines.

On the 10th of June 1933, two Spanish airmen set off from Spain for Cuba to fly 40 hours in the first successful  non stop crossing of the central Atlantic in a single engine aircraft.

Early morning on June 20th the plane left Cuba for Mexico City, where 60 000 celebrants eagerly awaited the plane`s arrival.

Curiously, the flight was only planned to Villa Hermosa in the neighboring state of Tabasco, where it never landed. From there, the Four Winds (Cuatro Vientos in Spanish) disappeared into the haze of mystery.

The Mexican Air Force immediately dispatched a squadron of search and rescue planes, one of which later made an emergency landing in nearby San Andrés Tuxtla and provided Los Tuxtlas with the thrill of its first aviation experience.

The flight of the Cuatro Vientos was the equivalent of the Lindbergh experience in the Latin world and received huge press and radio coverage.

After the unsuccessful air search, hampered by bad weather, the then Mexican president,  presuming the crash occurred in Los Tuxtlas, ordered an expeditionary force to begin a ground search. The operations center was to be Catemaco, and the sleepy village became inundated with  reporters and searchers, depleting the shelves of its few grocery stores.

Locals guided the unsuccessful searchers through the surrounding jungles, where two died of snake bites and many more came down with tropical diseases.

The fate of the aircraft and its crew has never been officially explained. The most popular story claims the aviators crashed in the nearby Mazateca region of the Oaxaca mountains and were then killed and buried by natives. In 2008 a Mexican colonel reported it actually crashed in Veracruz mountains north of Los Tuxtlas.
Conspiracy buffs of course believe the Mexican government buried the facts to avoid international embarrassment.

Catemaco had gotten its first taste of flying, and soon an airfield was leveled near the El Cerrito hill which is now the center of the town. Nearby San Andrès actually operated an airfield with scheduled flights to a number of cities. All that ended coincident with an airliner flying into a mountain in the 1950's.

Both airfields have disappeared. A dirt strip outside of San Andrés receives an occasional aircraft and for years now, Los Tuxtlas is humming with political promises of a new airport to be built.

Read about the history of the flight, in Spanish, of course: