Drug Smugglers Turn To Ultralights

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

An ultralight aircraft might not seem the ideal transport for a drug smuggler trying to move contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border -- they can't carry much weight, and flying an overloaded little trike low and slow above dark terrain at night seems like a recipe for disaster. But officials in Arizona know of three such attempts in recent months, The Associated Press reported this week, and all of them ended badly for the pilot. One pilot was killed when the aircraft crashed into a field, another smuggler hit power lines and was paralyzed, and the third flier was caught and arrested. Officials said ultralights were more commonly used about 20 years ago, before smugglers upgraded to bigger airplanes that could carry more bales of marijuana. Officials say the ultralights seem to be coming back because of increased vigilance along the border, which drives smugglers to attempt new strategies. The small aircraft are hard to spot on radar, and they are cheap and easy to fly.

Officials were unsure if the recent uptick represents a trend. "If the cartels feel they're successful, they'll go with it," Rick Crocker, a deputy special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Tucson, told the AP. "If we can shut it down, they'll go with other means." The ultralights that were found by officials were outfitted with cages to hold up to 350 pounds of marijuana, according to USA Today. The Border Patrol believes the plan was to fly over a designated spot, pull a lever to drop the load, then fly back over the border without ever touching down.