Barbara In ‘The Hijacking Of Flight 601’: Is Maria Eugenia Gallo Based On A Real Person?

Netflix’s The Hijacking of Flight 601 series is based on the true story of a plane hijacking that took place in the early 1970s in Colombia. In the series, we came across a character, Barbara, whose real name was Maria Eugenia Gallo. As per the media reports, Maria was just 23 years old when the hijacking of a real-life HK-1274 aircraft took place in Medellin. The unmarried flight attendant, Maria, used to work for Colombian SAM Airlines, which shut down its business in 2010. Nevertheless, The Hijacking of Flight 601 takes a few creative liberties in portraying Maria’s character in the series. To begin with, there is no evidence to suggest Maria ever changed her real name and worked under the guise of Barbara for any political reasons. However, it is true that Maria was a close friend to another real-life air stewardess presented in the series, i.e., Edilma Perez. In real life, it was Edilma who requested the SAM airlines to send Maria with her on the hijacked plane, after the Aruban authorities decided to change the crew on the flight. Later, Maria and Edilma courageously faced the traumatizing situation on the plane but in the end, safely returned to Buenos Aires, along with the rest of the crew. In real life, the hijackers didn’t take any hostages so the finale episode of the series is completely fiction, except for the fact that Maria and Edilma are still friends in real life. In real life, Maria or Barbara never fell in love with a hijacker and the entire romantic angle between Barbara and Borja is completely fictional. So, it would be safe to assume that even The Hijacking of Flight 601 used Maria’s name in the narrative, the character portrayed in the series has very little connection to reality. So without wasting any other moment, let’s explore Barbara’s (nor Maria’s) character in the series and see how Barbara survived the hijacking and helped the other passengers get through it safely, together with her friend Edilma.


Spoilers Ahead 

Why Did Barbara Board The Hijacked Plane? 

In the bustling El Dorado Airport, Barbara worked as an air hostess for Aerobolivar Airlines. Back then, being an air hostess meant you couldn’t be married, have kids, or be overweight. And Barbara fit those criteria pretty well. She was the perfect air hostess, always smiling, always kind, and greeting everyone, because that’s what her job required. Not only was Barbara like that herself, but she also tried to help other air hostesses do better at their jobs. She’d tell them to always look sharp, wear lipstick, and keep smiling, even if some passengers were rude and disrespectful. Barbara herself faced some disgraceful comments about her skin color, like being called “caramel queen,” but she just brushed them off. But, above all, Barbara was a good friend. Her friend and fellow air hostess, Edilma Perez, was a single mother of three (she had five young kids in real-life). 


Edilma often came late to work, and Barbara always covered for her, making up excuses so the boss wouldn’t find out about her kids and fire her. But the day flight 601 got hijacked, Edilma was so late that Barbara had to cover her shift on the plane, thinking Edilma would come in time and board instead of her to assist a new, inexperienced air hostess. But as the plane took off and Edilma didn’t show up, Barbara had to leave the new girl behind, knowing Edilma would lose her job. Later, they found out the plane was hijacked by two guerrillas from the Revolutionary People’s Front. Edilma said she’d board the plane for her children’s sake, and guess who went with her? Barbara did. Edilma wasn’t just a friend; she was like a sister to Barbara. So if Edilma could risk her life for her kids, Barbara believed she had to risk hers for her friend, her sister, to protect her and not leave her alone. So, together, from Cuba, they boarded the hijacked plane to save those passengers!

What Was Barbara’s Real Identity? 

Barbara thought getting on the hijacked plane was going to be an adventure. She imagined it as some heroic tale she’d tell her kids and grandkids someday. Instead of feeling scared, she was actually excited about it. She pictured landing in Havana and enjoying a vacation on the beach. But as she boarded the plane, she saw fear in every passenger’s eyes. They were all held at gunpoint by two terrorists named Taro and Eulessis (whose real name later turned out to be Eusebio). Barbara realized they were in serious trouble, and they had to find a way to survive. Barbara wanted to take them to the first-class toilet to prevent them from getting sick all over the plane. But you won’t believe what happened! An old lady from first class tried to stop them, saying it should be exclusive to them only because they paid for it. Barbara couldn’t take that. Despite the risk, she kept smiling and tried to handle the situation calmly being a professional air hostess. But when the old lady insulted her, calling her a filthy black girl, and threatened to sue her, Barbara lost her temper, and they got into a physical altercation. You see, Barbara was tired of pretending to be the perfect air hostess. Her jaw hurt from fake smiling all the time. She broke down in tears with Edilma, saying she’d had enough. She was tired of the tight attire, fake lashes, and chemicals in her hair. And here’s the shocking truth, and it would surely make you sympathize with her: Her name isn’t Barbara; it’s Maria Eugenia. Where she’s from, you’re either a maid or you work on the streets. There are no other options. All she wished for was to smile genuinely, not to hide her emotions. She wanted to live a happy life without pretending.


How Did Barbara Survive The Hijack? 

Barbara was a quick thinker, always carrying sleeping pills in her bag. When the terrorists threatened everyone, she came up with a plan to mix the medicine into their sandwiches, hoping to make them dizzy so they could escape through the emergency exit. But things took a turn when the terrorists snorted cocaine instead, ruining Barbara’s plan. However, Barbara had a unique ability—she could read people’s minds. She sensed that the terrorists weren’t truly evil; they were just victims of society’s oppression. She sympathized with them, especially with Eusebio, because she herself could relate to them. She was a sweet talker and by talking to him, she uncovered the truth: he wasn’t a killer. He had only pretended to shoot a passenger to spread fear and get his money. The passenger was actually trapped under a hidden door. Barbara and Edilma managed to free the trapped passengers when they landed in Peru. But when the military tried to shoot them and Taro got hurt, Barbara’s instincts told her to tell Edilma to kill him while tending to his wound. However, Barbara was not a killer. She saw the good in both Taro and Eusebio and wanted to give them a chance. So, instead of harming them, they helped them escape while they made their safe return to El Dorado Airport. It takes a clear mind to get out of a situation like this, and Barbara proved that she had one.

You know, the whole time Barbara was on the hijacked plane, she was on the verge of being killed by the terrorists. What was going on in her mind? She felt happy that she was about to die, happy that she wouldn’t have to pretend anymore. Pretend to smile when she doesn’t want to. But now that she’s safe, she pities those thoughts. How could she have been okay with the idea of being dead? So, she decided that this was her chance to restart her life with her own identity—as Maria Eugenia. She left her job as the air hostess and went to Brazil to meet Eusebio, the very terrorist she saw good in. However, as said earlier, none of these things happened in real-life. Maria kept her job and maintained a pretty low life after the incidents. She disappeared from the public radar and most likely still lives a peaceful life somewhere in Medellin, Colombia, with her family. However, it is true that Maria owes her life to Edilma. Knowing she’ll always have her friend, her sister from the sky, with her. That’s the only thing from her past she’s willingly always carrying with her!


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Sutanuka Banerjee
Sutanuka Banerjee
Sutanuka, a devoted movie enthusiast, embarked on her cinematic journey since childhood, captivated by the enchanting world of the Harry Potter series. This early passion ignited her love for movies, providing an escape into the magical realms of cinema. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in media science, combining her academic pursuits with her unwavering passion for the silver screen.

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