New HBO docuseries reveals the life of a pilot who faked his own death to work for Pablo Escobar—and the CIA

New HBO docuseries reveals the life of a pilot who faked his own death to work for Pablo Escobar—and the CIA
Image via Wikimedia Commons

A docuseries chronicling the life of a pilot who faked his own death will air on HBO in the very near future. According to The Daily Beast, the Adam McKay-produced docuseries, titled "The Invisible Pilot," chronicles the life of Gary Betzner, the man who jumped from a bridge in front of his own family.

Betzner left behind a long trail of unanswered questions and secrets and ultimately became an international smuggler working as a key person in Pablo Escobar's drug organization. Now, the details about his life are coming to light.

During a recent interview with The New York Post, the documentary's co-directors Phil Lott and Ari Mark offered their perspective on Betzner, who is actually still alive. “We see him as this sort of ‘Forrest Gump’ character, he’s everywhere,” Mark said of the 80-something-year-old former international smuggler.

Despite filming the documentary, the directors have admitted that it is still difficult to break down who he really is; even after interviewing him multiple times.

“He is as cagey about [his military service] as he is about anything and we desperately tried to get his records from the Navy,” Lott said. “Whether it was piloting or he was in communications, he definitely picked up something [about evading radar] there.”

The directors recalled their time with Betzner while filming the series. “Phil and I spent a lot of time with him in the Miami and Coconut Grove area retracing steps. ‘That guy owes me 50 million, those people owe me 100 million’ and you’re like, ‘OK!’” Mark said. “He has all kinds of stories about trading cars and giving gifts, he was actually a fairly generous guy. He gave a lot of it away.”

They also reveal the truth about his dangerous smuggling runs. While the dangerous operations were lucrative, the directors highlighted that Betzner's motivations were actually not about money.

“Every flight he brought in, he felt like he was being a patriot. That’s a twisted world view that, in his mind, is absolutely 100% correct,” Lott said. “I think Gary wants to be extraordinary. It’s such a quintessentially American idea, right? It’s like: ‘I’m a small town crop duster, but … I’m a really good pilot, I’m really good at what I do, boy, I can do better than [crop dusting] and I can keep ascending,’” Mark said.

"Escobar and him seemed to have a mutual respect,” Mark said.

After several years working for Escobar's organization, his drug run came to a screeching halt in 1984 when he was arrested in Florida for cocaine smuggling. After being hit with a 27-year prison sentence, Betzner, per The Beast, "spited the CIA — who he says had guaranteed him immunity from jail — by testifying to the false flag mission and many more secrets of government-known drug smuggling."

“Gary tells a great story of purchasing planes and he created Pablo Escobar’s air force. And it was several planes, big planes, not just single engines or twin engines — these were jets,” Lott added. “And he tells several stories about spending time flying planes to Chile and just flying around looking for great valleys and beautiful vistas with Pablo Escobar.”

That was around the time when Betzner ended up becoming involved with the United States government. He was ultimately leveraged by the CIA and tasked with doing "their dirty work of arming anti-communist, Contra rebels in Nicaragua during a black ops mission."

In an effort to avoid time behind bars, Betzner reportedly "agreed to fly weapons and explosives to the ranch of John Hull, an American contractor in Costa Rica who worked with the CIA," per The New York Post.

“That tension is messed up. You’re dealing with these two kind of superpowers playing them off each other in some kind of way,” Mark said of Betzner’s unlikely employers. “I think for him, and I’ve experienced this firsthand, he is so incredibly good at shapeshifting — at rolling with whatever the situation is and making it work.”

While Betzner's testimony ultimately led to policy changes, he noted in the series that there were consequences. “[Escobar] knew where I was from, my children, that I ‘committed suicide,'” Betzner says in the docuseries. “Apparently he hired somebody [in the US] to investigate who I was as, like, insurance.”

“There was this implication of collateral, the collateral being his family,” Mark said. “There was this sort of unspoken surveillance that Escobar and his people made very clear to Gary.”

However, he does have some regrets for the decisions he made. “His family has clearly had its struggles and I think Gary has and will continue to admit he regrets that,” Mark said. “He really embraces, ‘This is who he is’ and ‘This is the way it is.'"

The first installment of the three-part series is scheduled to air on Monday, April 4 at 9:00pm EST on HBO.

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