World

2 killed in Chile airport shootout during attempted heist of over $32 million aboard plane from Miami

An airport shootout in Chile’s capital killed a security officer and an alleged robber Wednesday in what authorities said was an attempted heist of more than $32 million in cash aboard a plane from Miami.

Around 10 heavily armed robbers were able to skirt security measures to reach the runway at the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, where a Latam airlines aircraft had $32.5 million in cash that was being transferred to an armored truck, Interior Subsecretary Manuel Monsalve said.

CHILE-AIRPORT-ROBBERY-SHOOTOUT
A police officer guards a gate at the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago on March 8, 2023, after the failed robbery of more than $32 million from an armored van which had just picked the money from a Latam Airline plane arriving from Miami. 

KARIN POZO/AFP via Getty Images

There was a shootout between the would-be robbers and security officials that killed an employee of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, or DGAC, as well as an alleged assailant. The slain employee was identified as 45-uear-old Claudio Villar Rodriguez.

The other robbers fled. Two burned vehicles were later found nearby.

“The brave action by the DGAC officials frustrated the robbery,” Monsalve said, noting that the would-be robbers were “highly organized” and “very armed.”

Video posted on social media appeared to show bullet holes in a Delta plane that was parked next to the Latam aircraft that was targeted. Another video appears to show a moment in the shootout during which a lot of gunshots can be heard.

CHILE-AIRPORT-ROBBERY-SHOOTOUT
Police officers walk near a Delta Air Lines plane at the tarmac of the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago on March 8, 2023, after an attempted robbery of more than $32 million from an armored van which had just picked the money from a Latam Airline plane arriving from Miami. 

KARIN POZO/AFP via Getty Images

“There was no risk to passengers,” DGAC chief Raúl Jorquera said.

The attempted heist targeted the $32.5 million that were set to be transferred to an armored truck to then be distributed to several banks in the South American country.

The attempted robbery “will undoubtedly lead us to revise processes, protocols that must be improved … it forces us to rethink many things,” Jorquera said.

This was not the first time the airport in Chile’s capital was targeted. In 2020, thieves stole some $15 million from a warehouse in the airport. In that heist, the suspects used two vehicles, one painted in the colors and with the logo of courier company DHL, the BBC reported.

In 2014 another group made off with more than $10 million at the airport.  

President Gabriel Boric bemoaned the latest heist during a speech Wednesday in which he said that “when there’s insecurity, everything else wobbles.”

Boric vowed that the criminals would be brought to justice.

“We will pursue… those who put the lives of our compatriots at risk,” he said at an event at the presidential palace.

The police, he added, “have our full support to confront this terrible evil.”

An increase in violent crime has contributed to a recent decline in Boric’s approval ratings, according to polls.

The AFP contributed to this report.