On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, an Argentine court sentenced former Navy Captain Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Angel of Death" to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity committed in the principal clandestine center of detention and torture known as the Higher Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) of the former military dictatorship where approximately 5,000 people are estimated to have been killed during the period 1976-1978.
This was the longest trial in Argentina's history. It lasted 5 years during which 54 defendants were tried for crimes committed against 789 victims who passed through ESMA. Two former military pilots were among the 29 defendants who received life sentences for their part in the "death flights" in which victims were hurled to death from airplanes into the freezing waters of the South Atlantic in an attempt to hide the murders.
The victims included left-wing opponents of the regime and members of urban guerrilla groups and also human rights activists and relatives who people who had already been "disappeared" by the military. Naval intelligence operatives infiltrated activist groups who were drawing attention of international media to the human rights abuses in Argentina. Two French nuns and 11 others were thrown from a plane on the night of December 14, 1977. One of the others was Esther Careaga, who was a close friend of Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis, who testified at the trial in 2010. Bergoglio meet Careaga when he worked as an apprentice at a pharmaceutical laboratory in Buenos Aires in the early 1950s. Careaga was a biochemist and Bergoglio's boss and was seized after denouncing the disappearance of her pregnant 16 year old daughter. Careaga's body, along with that of one of the nuns and two other mothers washed ashore and were buried in a common grave. Their remains were only identified via DNA testing in 2003.