Around midnight on 7th July, the Venezuelan Airforce claimed that it had “neutralized” a United States Registered aircraft for violating its airspace. Venezuela claims that the plane was neutralized by fighter jets (likely Su-30MK2s or possibly one of their few F-16s) in accordance with engagement protocol.
No information on where the aircraft was allegedly shot down but flight radar records show that the plane’s last registered flight was between Toluca, Mexico to Cozumel Island, Mexico on Tuesday the 7th July. The Aircraft’s tail number, which is a unique identifier much like a vehicle license plate, was N339AV.
The aircraft that was shot down was a Raytheon Hawker 800, a twin-turbofan corporate jet, manufactured in 1994, it has been owned by at least 3 previous companies before it came into the possession of KMW Flight LLC. The Aircraft has a seating capacity of 17 and a useful load (crew, useable oil, fuel, and cargo combined) of 11,700lb of which, 1,700lb can be cargo.
If you look up the aircraft’s Federal Aviation Administration registration data you find that it is currently registered to KMW FLight LLC in Deleware. A quick search turns up no results for charter companies, however, this probably means that the aircraft was owned privately as companies often use a separate LLC for corporate aircraft for liability purposes.
Further investigation has revealed that the aircraft likely belonged to a company called Roldan Industries. Roldan Industries shares the same Suite number and Address as KMW FLight LLC. Roldan Industries is a supplier to the tourism industry in the Caribbean and Central American regions – resupplying cruise ships with amenities, linens, and beverages. Roldan Industries also operate out of Las Vegas, Nevada.
As of writing it is unknown what the true story is. This could have been a misunderstanding by the Venezuelan Airforce or perhaps there is a much darker tale to be told given that the aircraft seems to belong to a corporation that regularly does business in the region. For the moment the facts appear to be that the plane was destroyed by an Air-to-Air engagement by the Venezuelan Airforce.
The Strategic Command Operations branch of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces tweeted on Wednesday that it “neutralized” the plane “with military jets according to protocols” after it was spotted in Venezuelan airspace.
Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez tweeted his congratulations to the Bolivarian Military Aviation for “winning in this battle against drug trafficking,” saying Venezuela “will not be a transit for its bastard purposes!” Since 2013, Venezuela has had a shoot-down policy for planes suspected of carrying drugs in its airspace. Venezuela has shot down several planes in the past for suspected drug trafficking.
As a pilot myself I know that there are several layers of protection that lawfully operated aircraft have in order to keep incidents like this from happening even in prohibited or restricted airspace. Whether or not protocols were being followed seems to be perhaps less of an issue than if contact was made with the plane or even attempted before it was shot down. Hopefully, more information will be released to clear up the situation.