“That’s an attack plane, Dad,” said one of David Tellez’s young children as they spotted Mexican military aircraft touching down alongside their Aeromexico passenger plane early on Thursday.
Then the gunfire began.
“As we were accelerating for take-off, we heard gunshots very close to the plane, and that’s when we all threw ourselves to the floor,” Tellez said after the incident in the northern city of Culiacan.
Violence broke out on Thursday throughout Culiacan after the arrest of Ovidio Guzman, the son of the notorious drug lord known as El Chapo, and a senior member of the Sinaloa cartel.
Aeromexico said nobody on Tellez’s flight had been hurt. The Culiacan airport closed shortly after, as security forces patrolled the city, which was strewn with burned vehicles, attempting to contain the violent backlash.
Tellez, 42, was traveling with his wife and children, aged 7, 4 and 1, after spending Christmas with family.
He told Reuters he had reached the airport for his 8:24 a.m. flight without incident, despite encountering road blockades set up after overnight shootouts. Although Guzman’s arrest had not yet been confirmed, nervous security guards urged travelers to enter quickly.
“Authorities were not saying anything,” he said by phone.
Tellez hid in an airport bathroom with his family after hearing that gang members were in the airport. The rumor turned out to be false, and the Aeromexico travelers boarded quickly.
Yet, just as flight AM165 to Mexico City was about to take off, a succession of military planes landed on the airstrip.
Tellez took out his cellphone, recording several videos that show two large air force transport aircraft, smaller, fighter-like attack aircraft and military trucks on the tarmac. Then gunshots began to echo in the distance.
A video circulating on social media, appearing to capture the same incident, showed passengers crouching low below their seats as a child cried.
A flight attendant said the engine had been hit, triggering a leak. The crew directed passengers to disembark, moving them to a windowless waiting room in the airport.
It is not clear who was shooting at whom.
Tellez’s family plans to board another flight on Friday, but until then, is staying put.
“We prefer to stay at the airport until it’s safe to leave,” he said. “The city is worse. There is a lot of shooting and confusion.”