The Invisible Pilot is the latest true-crime documentary series on HBO and HBO Max about the jaw-dropping story of Gary Betzner. Airing every Monday on HBO at 9 p.m. ET starting April 4 and HBO Max, the three-part series takes viewers on the wild adventure of Betzner’s incredible life involving planes, bridges, drugs, Pablo Escobar , the CIA, hypnosis, etc.
So who is Gary Betzner and what happened to him? Newsweek has everything you need to know. Warning, there are unavoidable spoilers below.
Who is Gary Betzner?
Gary Betzner is an Arkansas dustman, Navy veteran, and highly respected pilot turned international drug trafficker.
He met his wife Sally on July 20, 1969 at a moon landing party and they had two children together, Travis and Sara Lee. Betzner also has a daughter Polly, from a previous marriage.
speaking in The invisible pilot, Betzner introduced himself as, “Who am I? Well, basically, I’m just a farm boy from Arkansas. There’s a story here that’s much deeper than it comes across. on the surface.”
After selling the Betzner Flying Service, Betzner moved his family from Arkansas to Alaska in 1976 to pursue an oil pipeline opportunity that did not go as planned.
To generate additional revenue, Betzner resumed flying and began smuggling whiskey before turning to importing marijuana onto his planes.
Betzner was then stricken with gout, which made it almost impossible for him to fly his planes. He had heard from the vine that cocaine was the perfect treatment – something he found most effective in relieving his symptoms. He also admitted to using cocaine recreationally at the same time.
In search of more cocaine, Betzner traveled to Miami, Florida in May 1977, where he found himself at the center of a drug bust at the hands of the DEA. As heard in The Invisible Pilotseven pounds of drugs were seized in the raid and Betzner faced up to 20 years in prison.
Released on bail, Betzner returned to his family in Arkansas, where he was again arrested for possession of an illegal substance. With the prospect of facing even more jail time, Betzner took matters into her own hands.
What happened to Gary Betzner?
On September 18, 1977, Betzner committed suicide in Hazen, Arkansas while on a day trip with his wife and daughter… Or so his friends, family and authorities were led to believe.
In reality, Betzner had staged his own death and was on the run.
He and his wife, Sally, had agreed to the plans and taken a crash course in hypnosis to prepare for the event. Part of the lesson was to hypnotize Sally into thinking her husband was really dead.
Sally’s hypnotized state was triggered by the slapping of Betzner’s shoes in the water below the White River Bridge, the clothes and shoes she threw away to help fake her suicide, as he walked fled in a getaway truck.
Impressively, the hypnosis classes worked and Sally found herself going through such intense grief that she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after her husband’s supposed death.
Betzner headed to Hawaii where he changed his name to Lucas Noel Harmony and got involved in the drug trade to survive, both taking and selling drugs.
Once again, Betzner was arrested and had to flee, which ultimately meant saying goodbye to his family for good – or so it seemed.
He then found himself in the same circles as drug dealer George Morales (from Netflix’s Cocaine Cowboys: Miami Kings), a speedboat racer from Miami who worked with Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel in Colombia and eventually began smuggling cocaine via his plane between Colombia and Florida.
Talk to The New York Post, the invisible pilot co-director Phil Lott shared, “Gary tells a great story of buying planes and he created Pablo Escobar’s Air Force. And it was multiple planes, big planes, not just planes. single-engine or twin-engine, they were jets.
“And he tells several stories about spending time flying planes to Chile and flying in search of great valleys and beautiful vistas with Pablo Escobar.”
However, in a huge twist, Gary Betzner also found himself transporting military cargo for the Contras on behalf of the CIA. He was also carrying pounds of cocaine wanted by US government officials to the United States, says The daily beast.
The Contras (1979-1999) were various US-backed and funded right-wing rebel groups that fought against the Sandinista Marxist junta of the Government of National Reconstruction in Nicaragua.
According to the Associated Press, Betzner transported, for the Contras, M-16 rifles, mines and C-4 explosives to John Hull, an American contractor in Costa Rica who worked with the CIA, and brought back about 500. kg (about 1,100 pounds) of cocaine on each trip.
In November 1984, Betzner was arrested for drug trafficking on behalf of Escobar’s drug ring. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison, despite his claims that the CIA guaranteed him immunity from prison for his role in their operations.
He was called to the 1988 Senate committee, headed by John Kerry, where he testified to known government drug dealing, admitting he had picked up cocaine during his two trips to Costa Rica in July 1984 when he had delivered weapons.
He said Morales “had an agreement with the CIA to provide [the Contras]. He wanted me to send arms and ammunition to the Contras and bring back contraband.″
Next, Senator John Kerry said Betzner’s testimony “shows very clearly that narcotics money was involved in the process of supporting the Contra.”
Ultimately, Betzner served his full prison sentence and was released in 2011. He now lives with his third wife.
Betzner is still alive today and is over 80 years old. He shares his story in the documentary, The Invisible Pilot on HBO.
Episodes of The Invisible Pilot airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.