A commission of Bolivian soldiers will investigate the wreckage of a 1930s plane thought to belong to Chaco War hero Rafael Pabon Cuevas, which has been found on a farm in Paraguay, Minister of Defense Javier Zavaleta said Friday.
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The aviation prowess of Pabon and his co-pilot, Second Lieutenant Mario Calvo, are next to legendary in Bolivian history. The pair were thought to have been gunned down in the Paraguayan Chaco after spotting an enemy aircraft in reconnaissance flight.
"It was the first modern war in Latin America to use fighters and bombers and transfer the injured," said Paraguayan Antonio Luis Sapienza, a historian specializing in the Chaco War.
The wreckage was believed missing until a Paraguayan farmer stumbled upon the remains of the aircraft on Wednesday near Fuerte Olimpo, almost 90 years since it vanished.
Plates from an engine recovered from a site in Paraguay confirmed the excavation team had found the plane belonging to Latin America’s ‘Red Baron’ of the first aerial battle by Senator Arnoldo Wiens, president of the National Commission of Historical Sites of the Chaco War. According to Sapienza, there were "pieces with the name of the engine and the aircraft" found among the wreckage.
"They were semi-pricked and were detected by a bulldozer when they cleared the area of weeds to enable the land for pasture," said Sapienza, adding that with this recent discovery, there is hope that other machines from the same era could still be found.
A troupe of Bolivian soldiers will investigate the site and negotiate the safe return of the artifacts for a possible museum display, Zavaleta said. If the initiative proves successful, it would be a milestone in Bolivian aviation.
The Chaco War (1932-1935) was waged by Bolivia and Paraguay for the possession of extensive land in an arid region where Bolivia currently extracts natural gas.
On June 12, the Chaco Peace Day was commemorated, in memory of the date on which the cessation of the war was signed. However, the final peace treaty cementing the national borders was not signed until three years later on July 21, 1938.