Inside the real story of 'The Invisible Pilot' who faked his own death to work for drug lord Pablo Escobar and the CIA
A FARMER who faked his own death more than 40 years ago went on to work not only for drug lords like Pablo Escobar, but also for the CIA.
Gary Betzner's wife and three young children were told he had plunged to his death off an Arkansas bridge in 1977, but it was all a scheme designed to avoid jail time.
The entire town of Hazen was rocked by the news of Betzner's alleged suicide, as police never found a body, and his wife Sally appeared so distraught that she was taken to a psych ward for several days.
But things weren't at all what they seemed like.
The new HBO docuseries The Invisible Pilot tells the unbelievable story of Betzner, who is still alive today and spoke with the series' directors, as reported by The New York Post.
Betzner, who grew up in the South with an abusive father, served in the Navy's communications branch and has claimed he was trained as a pilot and taught how to fly undetected.
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“Whether it was piloting or he was in communications, he definitely picked up something [about evading radar] there," the series' co-director Phil Lott told the Post.
After getting married for the first time in Arkansas and moving to Alaska in 1976 to try to get in the oil industry, Betzner began dabbling in small-scale pot smuggling.
An anti-establishment figure, he was arrested in Miami over narcotics charges in 1977.
He was arrested for possession a second time when he returned to Arkansas, and that's when he devised a plan to disappear – with his wife's help.
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Faced with spending time in jail, Betzner and his second wife Sally faked his suicide, with Sally throwing his clothes in a river and telling police he had jumped off a bridge.
In the docu-series, Sally explains how she even took hypnosis classes with Betzner to give a credible performance as she posed as a grieving wife.
In reality, Betzner hid out in Hawaii under a fake identity and received visits from his wife and kids.
However, Betzner pulled another disappearing act when he was busted again in Hawaii, and this time he didn't even tell his family.
That's when he began working with various trafficking groups and cartels, using fake identities as he flew from place to place for his criminal bosses in the early 1980s.
Most notorious of his bosses was Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
“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 told the New York Post.
“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.”
Betzner, who goes by one of his old monikers, Lucas Harmony, made a fortune in his illegal career and enjoyed his riches in South Florida.
But while Betzner was serving as a smuggling pilot, the CIA reached out to get him to help the US government arm the anti-Communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
To avoid jail time over his illegal dealings, Betzner reportedly agreed to fly weapons to the ranch of an American contractor and CIA asset in Costa Rica.
Betzner twice smuggled M-16 rifles, mines, and C-4 explosives to the ran, and brought back nearly 1,100 pounds of cocaine, per the Associated Press.
But his deal with the CIA didn't keep him out of jail for long, and the party ended for Betzner in 1984, when he was arrested while smuggling cocaine for Escobar.
The smuggler was sentenced to 27 years in jail, even though he has claimed the CIA had guaranteed him immunity.
He spilled his CIA secrets when he testified in 1988 to a Senate Committee, taking the risk of angering his former boss Escobar.
“There was this implication of collateral, the collateral being his family,” co-director Arik Mark told the Post. “There was this sort of unspoken surveillance that Escobar and his people made very clear to Gary.”
But Escobar did not take revenge, and after serving his full sentence, Betzner reconnected with his children and now lives a humble life with his third wife.
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The docuseries will air on April 4, 2022, at 9pm ET.
Viewers can watch season one exclusively on HBO Max.
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