A passenger plane in Culiacán, Mexico took on gunfire moments before takeoff on Thursday as Mexican military captured the son of the notorious former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The former cartel boss’s son, Ovidio Guzmán, was not aboard the Aeromexico flight caught in the crossfire, but the plane in question was taxiing for takeoff when military planes landing on the airstrip nearby drew fire from the cartel, according to Reuters.
Passengers aboard the plane threw themselves onto the floor to avoid being shot as the plane abandoned the runway and returned to the gate, where crew scrambled to get the passengers to safety. A flight attendant said the engine had been shot, triggering a leak and compounding the danger — as if being caught in the shootout wasn’t enough. No passengers were harmed as they disembarked, but it was a chaotic scene nonetheless:
All commercial flights in and out of the Culiacán airport were suspended as airline crews led travelers to windowless waiting rooms, away from the tarmac where military craft were taking heavy fire from a convoy of cartel vehicles.
There were 25 vehicles in the convoy, some with truck-mounted .50-caliber machine guns according to the Associated Press. The army sent Blackhawk helicopters to stop the cartel vehicles, but two gunships were shot down after taking on “a significant number of impacts.”
The cartel opened fire on the airstrip where the Mexican Air Force landed large transports not only to kill Mexican troops, but to try to stop any planes from leaving: cartel members incorrectly assumed Guzmán would be taken out of the city by plane, so they attacked three of the city’s airports, per the AP:
The gang then sent hordes of gunmen to attack fixed-wing aircraft, both military and civilian, at the city’s international airport.
One civilian airliner was hit. The gunmen also shot up airport buildings in a bid to prevent authorities from flying the captured cartel boss out of the city. But, Sandoval said, authorities anticipating the resistance had loaded Ovidio Guzmán onto a military helicopter to fly him back to Mexico City.
The military thwarted their plans, but more violence broke out back on the ground as the cartel faction led by “El Chapo’s” remaining sons — known as “Los Chapitos” — retaliated by shooting at civilians and military forces alike.
Streets were closed down as commercial trucks burned amid the shootouts. And cartel members even attempted to kidnap doctors from hospitals to treat their wounded. So far, there are at least 29 reported deaths, with 19 cartel members killed and 10 Mexican soldiers.
The federal government instructed Culiacán’s residents to take shelter at home, but the city is reeling from the attack. Ovidio Guzmán’s extradition to the U.S. is pending, but still in question; if extradited, he’ll be sent to a maximum security prison — far from any retaliatory attacks or further attempts to break him out.