Three former Argentine Coast Guard officers, a former sailor and a solicitor were arrested this week on charges of involvement in the so called ‘death flights’ and the killing of a French-born nun and four other women during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, according to a federal court report.
All five women including Sister Leonie Duquet were allegedly thrown alive from an airplane on14 December 1977 as it flew high above the South Atlantic. The officers allegedly were the crew aboard the flight, according to magistrate Sergio Torres.
Two of the suspects currently pilot passenger jets on international routes for Aerolineas Argentinas, the national airline. They have been identified as commanders Enrique José De Saint Georges and Mario Daniel Arru, whom back in 1977 flew aircraft belonging to the Coast Guard.
The four slain Argentine women were members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a rights group made of female relatives of people killed or missing during the military dictatorship.
The bodies of Duquet and the four women -- including Mothers group founder Azucena Villaflor -- were discovered in 2005 at a seaside cemetery buried under headstones that read NN, or no name. Locals buried the remains after the tide washed their bodies ashore.
Regime police kidnapped Duquet and another French nun, Alice Domon, in December 1977. Ten members of the Mothers group were kidnapped in the same operation. However Domon's body was never found.
Hundreds of dictatorship-era victims are known to have been thrown alive into the ocean on similar so-called flights of death”. Apparently Judge Torres has linked the pilots to 20 other such flights.
A former sailor Ricardo Ruben Ormello and an attorney Gonzalo Dalmacio Torres de Toloza were also ordered arrested on charges linked to the case. In effect the solicitor has been accused of very close links to operations in the clandestine detention centre that was located at the notorious Mechanical School from the Argentine Navy.
Prosecutor Eduardo Taiano says the pilots were involved in the 14 December 1977 flight of a Skyvan PA-51 from the Coast Guard that dumped several of the detainees, kidnapped at the Mechanical School, alive. Their bodies were recovered six days later in the beach of the South Atlantic resort Santa Teresita, 320 kilometres south of Buenos Aires and buried by the locals.
On May 6, a government prosecutor called for a life sentence for Alfredo Astiz, 59, nicknamed the Blond Angel of Death for crimes including the murder of Duquet and Domon. Astiz, at the time a navy officer operating under a pseudonym, infiltrated the Mothers group and pointed out who should be kidnapped, according to trial testimony.
Astiz has already been tried and sentenced to life in absentia by a French court for the Domon and Duquet murders.
In the mid-1990s a former sailor named Adolfo Scilingo admitted in a series of news interviews to his role in the flights of death and gave details of how prisoners were drugged and pushed out of airplanes. Scilingo was later sentenced to prison in Spain for crimes against humanity.
Official figures say 9,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and killed in what became known as Argentina's Dirty War,” but many believe the real number to be closer to 30,000.
Lawsuits over abuses under the dictatorship have been on the rise since the late Nestor Kirchner (president 2003-2007) overturned a broad amnesty of junta-era crimes that was enacted after democracy was restored in 1983.