Héctor Sandoval

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Sandoval, a cameraman with RCN Televisión, died of gunshot wounds sustained while covering an April 11 firefight between the Colombian army and leftist rebels.

Walter López, who was driving Sandoval and his crew, was also shot and killed during the firefight, said Rocío Arias, executive producer of RCN Televisión news.

The journalists came under fire on April 11 at around 1:45 p.m. in a mountainous region outside the southwestern city of Cali where the army was pursuing fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The rebels had just kidnapped 13 provincial lawmakers and four aides and were apparently seeking refuge when the army launched an operation to free the captives.

The crew had decided to leave when an army helicopter hovering above opened fire on their vehicle, said Juan Bautista Díaz, a freelance photographer working for Semana newsmagazine. The letters “RCN” were marked in large, bright colors on the roof and both sides of the vehicle, according to both Arias and Bautista.

A bullet pierced the roof and tore through López’s arm and into his body. According to Bautista, he appeared to have died instantly, but his colleagues were trying to apply a tourniquet when the army helicopter resumed fire. They were forced to flee for cover in a nearby ravine, said Bautista.

The journalists then tried to signal the helicopter for help by waving white T-shirts in the air. Fifteen minutes after López was shot, a bullet from the helicopter ripped through Sandoval’s left leg, said Bautista.

Continued fighting forced Bautista, Sandoval, and RCN correspondent Luz Estela Arroyave to hide in the ravine for about two hours before journalists from a local newspaper who had also come to cover the fighting took them to a hospital. Sandoval died several hours after arriving at the hospital due to significant blood loss from the bullet wound.

Though the army has opened an investigation into the killings, no progress was reported at year’s end, according to an army spokesperson in Cali.

The FARC later freed one of the lawmakers and four aides.