Canadian pilots jailed in the Dominican Republic after reporting huge cocaine shipment on plane

“It is unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could be detained during a possible 12-month investigation for an alleged crime they reported.”

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a canadian charter airline says its pilots and flight attendants are being jailed in dangerous and inhumane conditions in the Dominican Republic after reporting to police what turned out to be 200 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside their plane.

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The aircraft, a Bombardier regional jet that flew under the Air Canada Express banner until two years ago, is being held at the Punta Cana airport after the discovery of the drugs late last week.

pivot airlines he said his crew found the contraband in a maintenance compartment containing “critical” electrical equipment and reported the find to both local officials and the RCMP.

They averted a likely air disaster that could have been caused by extra weight and flammable packages that were near electrical equipment, the company said.

The crew members are now being held in separate detention centers. The men are in a communal cell with suspected drug offenders, the company said in a statement.

“They don’t speak the language, they have been identified as whistleblowers of the smuggling to the authorities and they fear for their safety,” Pivot said. “We are deeply concerned about the safety, security and ethical and humane treatment of our crew.”

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“It is unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could be detained during a possible twelve-month investigation for an alleged crime they reported.”

The plane used to be owned by a subcontractor that carried 1.5 million passengers a year on Air Canada Express flights, before going bankrupt when Air Canada canceled the deal in late 2019.

My phone blew up when this happened…it’s a big deal

Today, the same CRJ-100, now painted a plain white, stands in Punta Cana after the country counternarcotics agency says Officers found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine, worth approximately $25 million, on the street inside the plane.

Among the nine Canadians who have been detained for questioning are the plane’s two pilots and two flight attendants, three of whom had crewed those Air Canada flights until relatively recently.

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Pivot is a fledgling charter company born out of the demise of Air Georgian, the Air Canada subcontractor where many of the country’s commercial aviators began their careers. The industry is in an uproar over the incident, said a former Georgian pilot, who often flew the plane seized by the Dominicans.

“My phone blew up when this happened – everyone who worked there, pilots, flight attendants, it’s a big deal,” the former crew member said.

“I actually didn’t think so at first,” said the pilot, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue in Canada’s small aviation industry. “The four (the team) I know personally, I have worked with all of them. My brain was trying to process: how could this be happening?

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National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) of the Dominican Republic said in a press release who inspected the plane in response to an intelligence report and ultimately found eight black gym bags filled with 200 bricks of cocaine.

The bags had been hidden in some of the plane’s “control compartments,” an agency news release said.

“An extensive investigation process has been launched around this case,” he said. “The Public Ministry, assisted by DNCD agents, is working hard to clearly establish who is directly related to the seizure of the substance.”

Dominican authorities say officers found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine, worth about $25 million, on the street inside the plane.
Dominican authorities say officers found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine, worth about $25 million, on the street inside the plane. Photo by National Directorate for Drug Control/Twitter

The Georgian ex-pilot said the “control compartments” where the cocaine was allegedly found sound like the enclosures that contain equipment such as the plane’s computers and batteries, places he said the ground crew could access, but normally don’t. pilots or flight attendants.

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The cocaine is not grown anywhere in the Caribbean, so it likely originated in Colombia or possibly Peru or Bolivia, said Jason Eligh, a senior expert with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Since flights arriving from any of those coke-producing nations face intense scrutiny, smugglers often route them through other locations first, he said, with the West Indies being a favorite.

“It’s a wonderful place where you have a lot of islands, you have a great ability to hide sea vessels,” Eligh said. “Geographically it is a very good crossing point.”

He also said that criminals frequently transport illicit drugs by plane, including commercial passenger planes, and the vast majority of them arrive at their destination without being caught. Baggage handlers and other ground crew, as well as sometimes aircrew, have been found to be involved in the past, Eligh said.

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And it usually takes some time before police intercept shipments like the one from the Pivot plane, he said.

“This is probably not the first time this route has been used,” Eligh said. “You don’t do a seizure the first time someone has been exploiting a particular route.”

The plane, registered under C-FWRR and still bearing the “tail number” 105 used when it flew Air Canada Express routes, has traveled extensively in the Caribbean over the past year, according to the FlightRadar24 website.

Nearly all of its 65 flights since mid-December have been to or from the region, including stops in the Dominican Republic, St. Martin, Jamaica, Nassau, Puerto Rico and Antigua.

The aircraft made the most visits to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, flying in or out more than 65 times since April 2021. Another frequent destination (18 landings and takeoffs in the last year) was tiny Suriname, covered in jungle, a country that moves “tons” of cocaine, according to Colombia-based InSight Crime.



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