A North Tyneside filmmaker risked his own life to tell the story of a US special agent murdered by a Mexican cartel ‘hit squad’.
Former News Guardian reporter Nick Martin travelled to the heart of Mexico’s war on drugs to produce ‘Agent Down’, a Sky News documentary set to be shown around the world on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on March 22.
In the one-hour film, Nick investigates the murder of Homeland Security special agent Jaime Zapata and the wounding of his partner Victor Avila.
The pair were sent on a dangerous mission deep into territory controlled by the violent Los Zetas cartel in Mexico in February 2010.
Nick said: “The armoured car they were driving was ambushed by cartel ‘sicarios’, or hit men, who then sprayed more than 100 bullets into the cab of the vehicle.
“Jaime Zapata died at the scene and Victor Avila survived and has been in hiding ever since.”
The documentary explores what happened that day, but the filmmakers also claim to reveal disturbing new details about what US authorities knew about the guns used in the attack.
Nick, 37, who went to Monkseaton High School, said: “This is a powerful, harrowing, but at the same time sensitive film, which sets out to tell the story of what happened to these special agents.
“The two men were sent on that road despite official warnings that it was a deadly place to be.
“But our six-month investigation has also prompted senior politicians in the United States to call for a fresh inquiry into the case.”
He added: “Highway 57 is the most dangerous road in Mexico. We had to strictly limit the time spent on the road because of the risk of being followed, or even worse, stopped by cartel gangs. We had flak jackets and several back up vehicles.”
“But on my mind throughout the trip was what happened to these special agents and the risk we were taking to tell that story. But the kind of storytelling I do is never without risk.
“At the heart of Agent Down is a violent attack on two US employees. It is the first time anyone has heard the account from the man who survived to tell the tale. And it’s heart-stopping.”
It is not the first time Nick has reported from Mexico.
In 2010, he was awarded News Story of the Year by the Foreign Press Association for his film Mexico’s Missing Children, which told the story of Maria, a girl trafficked by a gang of people smugglers intent on selling babies across the border to America.
The film was described as “extraordinary journalism in the face of great danger”.