An American Airlines Boeing 737 crew were robbed at gunpoint in Costa Rica this week. The crew had been traveling from their hotel accommodation to San Jose, ahead of a flight back to Miami, when they were accosted by two men. The flight eventually proceeded with a seven-hour delay.
A seven-hour delay
An American Airlines flight from Costa Rica to Florida was delayed by several hours this week for an unusual reason. View From The Wing first noticed the delay, and reported the incident on its site. According to the report, the reason for the delay was that the poor crew had been robbed on their way to the airport.
With an early departure, the crew were picked up from their hotel accommodation at around 04:30 in the morning. The van apparently ran over something in the road; a plastic box of some sort. As it was being dragged along the road underneath the van, the driver stopped to clear the blockage.
At this point, it became clear that the box had been placed there on purpose. As the driver exited the vehicle, a man jumped into the driver’s seat armed with a knife, and demanded all cell phones and electronics from the terrified passengers. Strangely, he did not ask for their wallets.
Then, another man opened the sliding door on the side of the van and leaped into the vehicle. He brandished a gun, and reportedly held it to the heads of crewmembers until everyone handed over their belongings.
The gunmen left, and the driver took the shaken crewmembers back to the hotel.
The flight was scheduled to take off from San Jose at 05:20 CST. IT should have been arriving in Miami at just after 10:00 that morning, but ended up being delayed for around seven hours. It finally departed at 12:34 local time, arriving into Miami two and a half hours later at 17:03 local.
It’s not clear if the same crew operated the flight or if a relief crew were brought in to continue the service. For the passengers, it was an unwelcome delay to their planned trip. For the crewmembers involved, it’s going to be an experience they won’t forget in a hurry.
American Airlines confirmed the incident to Simple Flying, telling us,
“We are aware that our crew members unfortunately fell victim to a crime while en route to Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) on March 16. Our security team is in close contact with local law enforcement and have acted quickly to implement enhanced measures to ensure the safety of our team members.”
Is Costa Rica dangerous?
By the nature of their job, airline crew sometimes find themselves in dangerous situations. For the most part, the danger is usually nothing more than a rowdy passenger or the hazards of inflight turbulence. But in some parts of the world, the danger has nothing to do with the flight at all.
Two years ago, a flight crew working for Air Europa were held at gunpoint in Venezuela. Soon after that, the FAA issued an emergency order prohibiting air operators from landing at or flying low over the country. The political turmoil in the nation meant it was seen as a high risk.
In other parts of the world, aircraft have been shot at, whether on purpose or by mistake. In the case of the Ukraine International flight last January, and Malaysia Airlines MH17 in 2014, a case of mistaken identity led to a tragedy.
But for Costa Rica, the country is largely seen as a safe place to visit. However, due to an increase in crime in recent years, the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council raised it to a ‘Level 2’ destination last year, meaning ‘exercise increased caution.’ Its advisory says that,
While petty crime is the predominant threat for tourists in Costa Rica, violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault, occurs in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government provides additional security resources in areas frequented by tourists.
While that’s a warning indeed, it’s not unusual for countries to be given level 2 status. Also on the OSAC list are Bermuda, Grenada, Mauritius and Thailand. The ranking goes from level 1 – travel freely, to level 4 – do not travel. It remains to be seen if the ranking for Costa Rica is reconsidered in light of this week’s event.