Helicopter Crash and Ed Fluegel's Subsequent Capture
On Day 7 of the time period under consideration, Ed Fluegel was being brought back from the medical station in a Huey helicopter. The helicopter crashed into the jungle sometime after 04:00 and before dawn.
(see maintenance history)
The helicopter pilot was a contractor and former Nicaraguan Contra foot soldier, drafted as a pilot in 1985. He received an accelerated pilot's training at the Mena, Arkansas airfield. Since then he had had little flight time. Reports gathered after the crash indicated that he had little experience with night flight.
There remains some possibility of mechanical failure, as maintenance records were extremely poorly kept and the helicopter was apparently not well-maintained. The possibility of sabotage also remains although there were no specific indications.
Ed Fluegel was thrown from or leapt from the helicopter before it struck the ground. Except for scratches from tree branches and a sprained wrist, he was completely uninjured. The pilot was believed killed, and later reports by the Colombian government confirmed this belief. His body was never examined by CIA.
The Colombian government retrieved the helicopter debris and the pilot's remains on the following day. CIA did not claim any involvement with the helicopter crash, nor did they ask permission to investigate the crash. The pilot wore a sanitized flight suit with no markings and carried no identification. The helicopter bore no markings and carried nothing - aside from rudimentary maps - that might indicate the affiliation of that aircraft. The Colombian government made it known to embassy officials in October 1999 that they had determined the helicopter and pilot to be U.S. controlled.
Ed Fluegel said that, in a state of mild shock, he lay in the jungle for some time, until the sun rose. The events recounted here are based on one debriefing of Fluegel in Colombia and one stateside debriefing.
At dawn a group of about eight men arrived. They were armed with automatic rifles (possibly Uzis, based on Fluegel's description) and they wore handkerchiefs over their faces. They told him in Spanish to stand up, and then helped him up. One of them came up with a black piece of cloth but was waved off by the apparent leader. The man escorted Ed Fluegel through the undergrowth to a path. They escorted him down the path for some time before the group came to a solid wooden fence. They led him into a security gate and into a large compound.
Although the men spoke infrequently, and in Spanish, Ed Fluegel said they did not seem to be Colombian or otherwise Hispanic. There were a number of Caucasians. At one point he heard a fragment of conversation in German, which he said meant "now we will turn this thing around."
He reports that there was a monkey chattering from high atop a chain link fence topped with coils of razor wire. He recalls that this monkey flung half a banana at him as the guards took him inside a small building with very thick, windowless walls, and a drain in the floor, where he was strapped to a chair.
Ed Fluegel then felt a cold sting in his ear and twitched his head in response. He turned to see one of the handkerchief-wearing men with an eyedropper and vial. Fluegel said he recalled an odd smell, as of some perfume. The individual with the eyedropper then winked at him and left. He was alone in the room for a moment.
An individual (who was identified by CIA, based on Ed Fluegel's description, as The Colombian) entered and proceeded to speak with Fluegel about a wide variety of abstract topics, including destiny, time, memory, and the relationship of the Americas today to both pre-Colombian and European civilizations. Fluegel was able to describe this individual in some detail, and was able to recall the general topics of conversation clearly. He said he did not remember any particular phrase uttered by him or his conversational partner, however. When questioned further, Fluegel said he could not even remember a single word. Fluegel claimed, in fact, that he did not know what language the conversation was conducted in. Since Fluegel knows only English, German, and ancient languages, this claim is unusual. Nevertheless, he insisted that he could not recall the language in which he and the individual identified as The Colombian spoke.
After some time Ed Fluegel's head lolled to the side and his eyes closed. His memories of his capture end there.
Ed Fluegel was found the next day wandering through the brothel district of a nearby village. Agent Tilde came across him by chance. Agent Tilde later reported that Ed Fluegel appeared to be in a euphoric, highly-suggestive state, as if drunk, but he did not appear to be injured. It had been two days since the helicopter carrying him went down, and Fluegel was able to recall almost nothing between the time he had spent with the man believed to be The Colombian and his encounter with Agent Tilde.
Ed Fluegel was flown by helicopter back to the medical facility, where the examiner reported that he had no injuries as a result of the crash, but showed some signs that were consistent with intoxication. Ed Fluegel's precise speech and dilated pupils suggested to the examiner that this may not be the case, however. His blood-alcohol level was measured and was below .001. The medical examiner drew no other conclusion about his condition. Ed Fluegel was returned to the SBA compound by helicopter after the medical examiner administered a mild sedative to him. Upon his return he was debriefed and the risk of the operation's compromise was assessed by Gus Fortan. Fortan did not believe Fluegel's capture had compromised the operation and he wished to proceed.
The helicopter crash and Ed Fluegel's subsequent capture caused deep concern among high-level DEA staff involved with the operation, who were not in agreement with Fortan. Also during this time, other concerns were raised when another potential breach of security, related to one of the other code-talkers, was detected.