Carlos Dardano (Facebook)
If your father told you that your one-eyed uncle landed a passenger aircraft after its two engines burned out in the middle of a merciless storm — without anyone getting killed — you’d totally think he was lying, right?
C’mon, tell me you would, because I feel like a pretty terrible daughter right now.
My dad (Italo Carletti Dardano) first told me about my uncle Carlos Dardano when I was about 12 years old.
My dad saw a kid who was finally old enough to process an incredible story.
I saw a dad who thought I was still young enough to believe a tall tale.
(To be fair, my dad is kind of like the father in Big Fish: full of grandiose stories that push the boundaries of believability.)
The thing is, my dad was not lying. He wasn’t even exaggerating.
Two days ago, this short episode of Mayday was uploaded on YouTube.
The episode confirms the following, based on official reports, interviews and eye witness accounts:
- Carlos Dardano lost his left eye after being shot in the head by guerrillas during the civil war in El Salvador — but despite his impaired vision, he went on to become a certified commercial pilot.
- In May 24, 1988, Carlos was flying a Boeing 737 for TACA airlines (TACA 110), which was on its way to New Orleans from Belize city. The plane was carrying 38 passengers and several crew members.
- During that flight, a violent thunderstorm killed power to both engines. Shortly after the pilots switched on the emergency backup generator, the engines overheated and there was a dual engine flameout.
- To avoid a catastrophic fire, Carlos shut off the engines and put the plane back into free fall, realizing he wasn’t going to make it to the New Orleans airport. He ruled out the possibility of landing on a highway as the air traffic control tower had suggested (and likely killing people in cars and on board).
- His co-pilot spotted a levee parallel to a canal, and Carlos began a risky maneuver meant for small planes called a sideslip. There’s no way to slow the plane, but somehow Carlos avoided a high cement wall and a steep embankment — and made a bumpy but safe landing. No one on board was killed, or even badly injured.
- “For the first time in history, a 737 without any engines has landed safely outside of an airport.”
After watching the show, I promptly called my dad and apologized for being such a skeptical 12-year-old, and also for forgetting about this incredible tale for so long.
I have also looked up my cousin Charlie on Facebook (Carlos’ son who is around my age) and found out two more things: Charlie has some pretty awesome pictures of his dad and their flight school in El Salvador and, luckily, he doesn’t have very strong privacy settings.
I immediately wanted to message him, but I’m wasn’t quite sure where to start.
Perhaps: Our grandfathers were brothers. My dad went to school with your dad in El Salvador. Your father’s tale of heroism was so awesome that I refused to believe it for years. (Or, hey, I borrowed some of your pictures for a blog post – is that cool?)
I think I’ll just send him this post and see what happens. I’m actually pretty nervous!
Until then, I urge you all to revisit the flights of fancy from your youth. They may be better grounded than you know.