Yesterday's News

Local residents swept up in Central American unrest

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staffwriter
March 19, 2006

The terrifying world of hijackings and hostages was brought home to Henderson residents 25 years ago when three local residents were victims of a hijacking in Honduras.

Honduran native Flavia Cueva and her two youngest children -- Paul, 4, and Elisa, 3 -- had gotten on a Boeing 737 in Tegucigalpa in 1981 after an extended vacation in Honduras to visit her parents and siblings. Her then-husband, Mike Orsburn, and oldest son Tyler, 9, had earlier flown back to Henderson to fulfill job and school obligations.

"We were getting ready to take off and after I buckled myself up I looked up and saw this man with a mask over his face holding a gun," she told The Gleaner in 1981. "I thought, 'my God, this is a joke.' "

There were no screams or panic; the hostages at first were simply puzzled. But Cueva quickly realized it was no joke. She was terrified when she learned the hijackers demanded the release of 15 Salvadoran leftists being held by the Honduran government, as well as freedom for Facunda Guardado, the head of the Democratic Revolutionary Front of El Salvador.

She froze when she heard that name; during her stay in Honduras she had been told that Guardado had recently been killed by Honduran officials.

"My thoughts were, 'when they find out that the man is dead, what are they going to do to me and my children?' " Fortunately, as it turned out, she had been misinformed; Guardado survived the Salvadoran civil war.

But the situation was still pretty tense. The day before the hijacking a powerful bomb had ripped through the building housing the national assembly of Honduras, although only three people were injured.

Once in the air, the hijackers demanded that the New Orleans-bound jet be diverted to Managua, Nicaragua, where the men threatened to blow up the plane if their demands were not met.

"The children weren't afraid, because I was trying not to be afraid," Cueva said. "Elisa wanted to know why the plane wasn't moving and Paul wanted to know what the robbers were doing."

Cueva and her two children were held captive only a few hours. The hijackers quickly released the 34 women and children, but kept the crew and 43 male passengers hostage as they negotiated.

The left-wing government of Nicaragua and the right-wing government of Honduras bickered over which one was responsible for negotiating with the hijackers. Honduras eventually agreed to release the 15 jailed leftists, which resulted in the plane being flown to Panama, where the hijackers asked for political asylum in Cuba. No one was hurt or killed during the hijacking, which detained about 10 Americans.

The Orsburn family, however, was yet to be reunited. The travelers were taken to the Honduran, and then the American, embassy after being released, and arrangements were made to send them back to Honduras. Mike Orsburn had received a telephone call from a U.S. State Department official, explaining that his wife and two children had been hijacked, and he understandably was "really frightened at first."

To make matters worse, after being hijacked, their flight home to the United States was overbooked. A trip that began early on a Friday didn't result in a home-coming until nearly three days later.

Cueva, who had been a resident of Henderson since 1970, noted she was not a U.S. citizen as of 1981, but that she planned to soon remedy that. She was true to her word, becoming a citizen and registering to vote in early 1983. She later became a teacher at Henderson High School for seven years.

In 1997, however, after spending nearly three decades in Henderson, Cueva returned to her roots in Honduras. She refurbished and expanded the family home near the famous Mayan ruins of Copan, which she transformed into the Hacienda San Lucas, an environmentally friendly bed and breakfast inn. (Her web site is

In a recent e-mail from Honduras she characterized the hijacking as a symptom of the turmoil that swept Central America during that period.

"The Central American revolution of the '80s did not change much in this part of the world," she said.

"So many died and were sacrificed for some sort of social justice, but not much has changed. The world changed and revolutions faded into history. The poor stayed poor and the wealthy became wealthier. Basic rights like education, clean water and sustenance, justice and personal dignity are not available to many still."

100 years ago

Husband Kimmel was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy and preparing to cruise on the maiden voyage of the battleship Virginia, according to a 1906 article in The Gleaner.

The Virginia was the Navy's largest ship at that time, and launched Kimmel on the spectacular career climb that would land him in charge of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time of the raid on Pearl Harbor.

75 years ago

A "masked marvel" playing piano in the window of Minnie's Cafe passed his 80th hour of a piano-playing marathon, according to a 1931 article in The Gleaner.

"The marathon is attracting considerable interest and man expressed the opinion on Sunday that he would be unable to continue through Monday."

50 years ago

Country singer Jim Reeves, who had recently been inducted into the Grand Old Opry, played a concert at the Kraver Theater, according to an advertisement in The Gleaner.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS