A shootout following a failed multi-million dollar heist has left two dead at Chile's main international airport in the country's capital.
Taking Down Airport Security
According to Chilean authorities, on the morning of Wednesday, March 8 at around 06:30 local time, ten heavily armed robbers in three vehicles entered the premises of Santiago's Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCEL/SCL) after tying up a security guard.
About thirty minutes later, at 07:00 local time, a LATAM Airlines Boeing 787-9, operating flight LA501 from Miami, landed and taxied to its gate. This was the aircraft — moreso the cargo inside the aircraft — that the robbers were targeting.
The Attempted Heist and Shootout
Awaiting the LATAM 787 at its gate was a Brink's Security Truck ready to haul $32.5 million in cash from the aircraft to numerous South American banks. It was during the crucial process of unloading and transferring said lucrative cargo from the plane that the perpetrators of the heist struck, opening fire on the airport workers unloading the cargo. Security officers working for Chile's Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) responded by returning fire.
According to the Chilean Deputy Interior Minister Manuel Monsalve, "...There was an intense exchange of gunfire...[security officials] foiled a robbery by a highly organized, highly armed, and probably very well-planned robbery..."
During the shoot-out, one DGAC officer, later identified as 45-year-old Claudio Villar Rodriguez, was killed as well as one of the thieves. Shortly after the failed heist, two of the vehicles the robbers used to get access to the airport were found in the vicinity of the airport grounds.
An airport employee filmed part of the shoot-out and posted it on social media. In the video, the airport security guards and thieves are seen battling it out as it's audible that shots are being fired.
Following the attempted robbery of $32 million from a LATAM Airlines aircraft at Chile’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, two have been reported dead. pic.twitter.com/byPPVTs1km— AeroXplorer (@aeroxplorer) March 10, 2023
The aircraft that carried the cargo from Miami to the scene of the heist, a LATAM 787 registered CC-BGA, was unscathed. Shortly after the heist, reports emerged that a Delta Airlines A350 next to the LATAM 787, registered N574DZ, had been struck by bullets in its tail. The rumors about the Delta A350 proved to be false, as the "bullet holes" were actually scuff marks on the A350's tail from minor abrasions such as small rocks and other non-threatening airborne debris.
To further discredit reports of damages to the Delta A350, if the plane received damage in the incident, then a noticeable disruption in service would have been seen in its schedule. The Delta Airlines A350 took off on time for its return to Atlanta while the other undamaged LATAM 787 remains grounded due to its crucial role in Chilean authorities' investigation of the heist.
This is not the first time something like this has happened at the airport.
In 2020, thieves stole $15 million from a warehouse on SCL's airport premises, getting away in two vehicles disguised as DHL delivery trucks. Six years before that, $10 million was stolen from the airport in a similar fashion.
This seriously puts into question the security of Santiago's Benitez International. How could three major, highly orchestrated heists occur (two of them successful) in the span of only nine years? Addressing questions such as this, DGAC chief Raúl Jorquera stated "...There was no risk to passengers...[this robbery] will undoubtedly lead us to revise processes, protocols that must be improved... it forces us to rethink many things...".
This heist is one of only many in recent years that is part of a trend of rising crime in Chile such as multiple highly orchestrated robberies on Chile's seaports and railways.
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