Gary Betzner: who is The Invisible Pilot, why did he fake his death, and when did he work for Pablo Escobar? 

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Gary Betzner was a family man with a wife and two children and a respected US Navy veteran who disappeared one day in 1977.

Police suspected that he had taken his own life but the truth of his disappearance turned out to be far more complicated.

HBO’s The Invisible Pilot is a three-part documentary drama series that explores what happened to Betzner and enters the worlds of drug lords, double lives, and hypnosis.

Who is Gary Betzner?

Betzner worked as a crop duster in Arkansas who was arrested in 1977 for smuggling drugs and faced 20 years in prison.

Released on bail he returned home to his family – his second wife, Sally, and two children – with a plan to fake his own death and avoid the charges.

He and Sally took hypnosis classes for weeks during which  Brezner would hypnotise Sally and tell her he had jumped from a bridge.

Through the hypnosis, Sally would come to truly believe that her husband had died – the sound of shoes hitting water would trigger her and she would start crying uncontrollably.

Police found Brezner’s clothes by the White River bridge in Arkansas and concluded that he had killed himself, though they didn’t find his body.

Betzner fled to Hawaii where Sally and his children visited him occasionally, but police learned of his presence so he fled again, travelling the US under a string of different aliases.


He then began flying planes for the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, with whom he devleoped a mutual respect, and later for the CIA as part of a black ops mission to arm anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.

In the early 1980s his relationship with Sally fell apart – she visited him in Florida and learned that he was living with another woman and he wanted to start a polyamorous relationship.

Sally left him in 1983 and four years later Brezner was married again to a woman named Cynthia – he would go on to marry twice more.

In 1984 Bretzner was arrested for smuggling cocaine for Escobar into Florida and sentenced to 27 years in jail.

Rather than implicate Escobar in his testimony, Betzner chose to take the wrap and serve out his sentence.

Where is Gary Betzner now?

In 2011, 18 years after Escobar’s death, Betzner was released from prison and returned to Arkansas.

Now 80 years old, he continues to live in Bentonville, Arkansas with his fifth wife, Julie. Brezner said that they typically spend their evenings sitting together, Julie smoking cigarettes, and Brezner smoking weed.

Brezner was involved with the making of The Invisible Pilot and spoke to co-directors Ari Mark and Phil Lott about his experiences drug smuggling and working for Escobar.

He expressed remorse for his crimes and the effect that they had had on his family.

When is The Invisible Pilot on TV?

The first episode of The Invisible Pilot will air in the UK on Sky Documentaries on 11 July at 9pm. Episodes will be released at the same time weekly.

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