In the excitement of the recent commencement of international flights between Panama and Chiclayo, I became curious as to why Chiclayo Airport (CIX) was named after José Abelardo Quiñones Gonzáles. It turns out, I had been regularly looking at his face, ever since I arrived in Peru - his face and aeroplane have appeared on the s/.10 note since 1991!
Moreover, in researching his story, I had an insight into Peru’s 20th Century military history, which largely involved minor border disputes with her neighbours. In this case, it was the Ecuadorian–Peruvian War, also known as the Guerra del 41 (War of 1941), that took place in the northern region of Tumbes, along the River Zarumilla.
Quiñones role in this was as a Lieutenant for the F.A.P (Peruvian Air Force). His squadron (#41), was involved in reconnaissance flights, taking pictures of the Ecuadorian positions.
Then on the 23rd of July, 1941, they were given the mission to carry out a low-level strafing and bombing attack against Ecuadorian positions at Quebrada Seca, a village on the Peruvian side of the border.
The story that has entered Peruvian folklore is that during the raid, Quiñones' aircraft, a US-built NA-50 fighter, was hit by ground fire from a battery of Ecuadorian anti-aircraft artillery. And instead of parachuting to safety, he chose to sacrifice himself by crashing his damaged aircraft onto the Ecuadorian position, putting the battery out of action.
Like many stories forged in the heat and confusion of battle, there are conflicting accounts. Ecuadorian military authorities state that they did not have any anti-aircraft guns located in the area. Besides, the limited artillery located at Machala was useless, owing to a mistake by the Minister of Defence, who had ordered the wrong calibre of ammunition to be delivered to the units.
Whatever the truth, Quiñones became a posthumous sensation in Peru. He was promoted to the rank of Air Force Captain, in the immediate aftermath of his death; declared a National Hero by law, on May 10, 1966; and in 2014, Peruvian airspace was officially titled Cielo de Quiñones (Quiñones' Sky)!
In 1961, his remains - and the remains of his plane - were placed in a mausoleum at Las Palmas Air Base in Lima, where he had done much of his pilot training. The anniversary of his death is celebrated there every year, and at Peruvian Air Force bases across the country
He has been honoured with various statues and busts around Peru, including in San Isidro, Rimac & La Molina (Lima), Tacna, Tumbes and Callao (in a square named after him).
Peru’s Congress building has a room named after him, along with his statue.
Not surprisingly, there is also a statue of him in Chiclayo, near his town of birth, Pimentel, as well as the airport named in his honour.