< Go to Homepage

One Man’s Quest to Solve the 31-Year-Old Mystery of an Eastern Air Lines Crash

Travel By
Peak of the Illimani Glacier as seen from an aircraft, near La Paz, Bolivia
Peak of the Illimani Glacier as seen from an aircraft, near La Paz, Bolivia

 

On New Year’s Day of 1985, Eastern Air Lines Flight 1980 flew into Mount Illimani, a 21,000-foot icy peak towering above the Bolivian capital city of La Paz. The investigation was plagued by inclement weather, competing government agencies, and technical difficulties. Only a few investigators have reached the crash site since, but all failed to locate the black boxes, leaving the case open-ended.

Left without answers, many have since speculated a plethora of myths surrounding the flight: It was a mafia hit, the pilots were running drugs, or it was a botched political assassination. The fascinating thing was many of these outlandish accusations were based around kernels of truth. Here’s Outside magazine’s Pete Frick-Wright describing the veracity of the seemingly insane theories:

“Five members of Paraguay’s prominent Matalón family, who built an empire selling home appliances, were on the flight. The wife of the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay—Marian ­Davis, who had continued on without her husband—died in the crash. In 1986, a criminal indictment against 22 Eastern baggage handlers revealed that, for three years, the airline had indeed been used to deliver weekly shipments of 300 pounds of cocaine from South America to Miami. (Eastern declared bankruptcy in 1989 and dissolved in 1991.)”

In the end, investigators, without the black boxes, merely concluded that the plane crashed into the mountain, but could not explain why or how.

La Paz, Bolivia (Getty Images)
La Paz, Bolivia (Getty Images)

 

Looking for his next personal adventure, Dan Futrell dragged his roommate with him to Bolivia to recover the black boxes and try to figure out what actually brought down Flight 1980. Just before the two set out on their trip, Pete Frick-Wright joined up to document Futrell and his compatriot’s search.

Read the full story on Outside here. (You can also read the story in Futrell’s own words here.)