Crew Jailed After Finding Cocaine On Plane

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A Canadian charter flight crew has been in jail for two weeks in the Dominican Republic after reporting contraband it found stashed in the avionics bay of their CRJ 100. Pivot Airlines told the National Post the crew found 450 pounds of cocaine, worth $18 million, in the compartment. But rather than thanking them for doing their civic duty, Dominican officials arrested 11 people, including two pilots and two flight attendants who were associated with the aircraft, as suspects. They were told they’d stay in jail while the drug haul is investigated.

The company said its people, nine Canadians, an Indian and a Dominican, are being held in poor conditions at local detention facilities, although their treatment may improve. The company said a Dominican court has “decided to improve the conditions for [their] crew, and have outlined a process for their eventual release from detention, “ the airline told the National Post. “We are grateful for the decision and are working diligently to secure their release.”

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33 COMMENTS

  1. Dominican Republic? I’m wondering if it would have been wiser to take off and report the finding right before arrival in Canada. Have the police watch the plane to see who retrieves the drugs. 450lbs would be hard to remove by a single crew member in a walk-off. So there must be some ground crew member involved. Also, unlike the highly trained Dominican Repubic police, the Canadians wouldn’t at least have detained those who actually reported the find.

    • Why would the Dominican Republic police arrest the crew when this would disincentivize future crews to report drug crimes? There is only one answer: the police were in on the drug deal and were annoyed that the crew blew it up.

      • Sandy, You are right on. I am close to someone who used to be married to a former very high level government official in the Dominican Republic and who was also close to our U.S. Ambassador there. I can guarantee you that the authorities were making money with that drug operation. Here’s what I think happened. The innocent pilots discovered the drugs and immediately thought, “Holy S**t!! If this gets discovered we’ll be automatically blamed and face decades in a DR prison.” So to save their asses they decided the best thing to do was to call the authorities. What they didn’t know was they were calling the people who were doing it. The authorities arrested them and are likely now conducting an investigation where they will find the pilot’s fingerprints on the cocaine and use that as evidence against them probably saying that the pilot’s knew they were about to be arrested which is why they turned in the drugs. So, most likely those pilots are toast. The only thing that can save them is if Canada makes a big political stink about the kangaroo court outcome and forces DR to release them. The DR authorities then might go after the flight attendants or other pax to deflect attention. But bottomline is they will never be connected with the operation. Nor with all the other drug operations they are currently operating. Money is power and power is money (Rule 1 in developing countries.) Anyone flying in and out of the Carribean needs to be aware of this potential danger to their freedom.

    • The airline said its crew members found the contraband in a maintenance compartment that contained critical electrical gear and reported it to both the local police in the Dominican Republic and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

  2. It actually makes sense that the DR police detain everyone for questioning, though jail conditions in Canada would be more humane. The passengers who chartered the flight may be involved. One of the crew members may have helped stash the drugs then later feigned innocence when the drugs were reported by a fellow crew member. The reported innocence of the crew comes from a statement by the airline, which is likely only restating what the crew have told them.

    • Very true. In the DR, as in many other Latin American countries including Mexico, you may be held for 48 hours without being charged, and if there is still uncertainty over guilt at that time, in practice incarceration can be significantly extended. If charged, you may be stuck for months until investigations are concluded and if it goes to trial you are there until it’s all over.

      Face it, any foreigner in virtually any country who finds themselves caught up in something like this will be in the same sort of pickle. Only if you have diplomatic immunity can you wave a passport and stroll away.

  3. I’d like to hear from a pilot who’s experienced with the aircraft type about how 450 pounds added to the avionics bay would have affected the airplane’s center of gravity and performance, especially its takeoff performance.

    • I flew the CRJ and 450 lbs couldn’t be in one place only, it must have been distributed throughout. Regardless of it’s location, it wouldn’t make much difference to the CG when loaded with fuel and pax. Although quite some time ago, I lived in the Caribbean and flew around the islands for a living. There is no way that this was a chance situation, the drug operation was planned well ahead of the flight and in cooperation with receivers on the Canadian end. Such an amount of drugs would not be a side-operation, it would be the main purpose of a flight. This airplane is the only one in the company’s fleet and flew routinely between Canada and various Caribbean airports. Without help from inside the company this operation could simply not happen, no way.

    • Pivot Airlines confirmed in a statement on 6 April that the crew has been detained in the Dominican Republic but did not reveal their identities. Those detained included the captain, first officer, two cabin crew, and a maintenance engineer.

      It said the crew “averted a likely air disaster that could have been caused by the extra weight and the flammable packages being close to electrical equipment”.
      https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/entire-canadian-flight-crew-jailed-064743523.html

  4. I agree with Joe J. Never flown a CRJ but the pilots must have been in on it to plan balancing out the 450lb of cocaine like that. Or, someone else who knows weight/balance for an aircraft that size.

  5. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/entire-canadian-flight-crew-jailed-064743523.html

    Entire Canadian flight crew jailed after reporting stash of cocaine on plane they thought was a bomb.
    The Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) said that eight packages – each containing 25 smaller packages of cocaine – totalling 200 kg were located in the aircraft’s control compartments after an in-depth search. The local police said the cocaine is worth about $25m (£19.2).

    The charter plane had arrived at Punta Cana airport on 31 March and was scheduled to fly to Toronto.

    The airline said its crew members found the contraband in a maintenance compartment that contained critical electrical gear and reported it to both the local police in the Dominican Republic and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

  6. The Avionics Bay in a CRJ type aircraft is located underfloor forward of the Wing Box and all the way to bulkhead FS280 which is located just behind the Cockpit. It is accessible through an underbelly plug door that is not very big and is basically a crawl space with Avionics and Electric on both sides of a center aisle. It is insulated with blanket types liners that may be confused to drug pouches, but I cant say this was the case.

    On airliners the door does not lock, however, a number of private operator`s of CRJ100 aircraft do install door locks on all external doors. Do not know if this was the case here? Normally in day to day operation, opening and checking this compartment by the flight crew is not part of the standard pre-flight inspection, but we are taught to do a visual check if the airplane has been left unattended and there is a suspicion that someone may have had access to the compartment.

    When we were flying on a ferry flight with a technician, we usually left that job to the technician. Loading 450 Lbs of drugs into the compartment is very feasible (lots of hiding places in there) but would take considerable time. Not to be worried by the load, the aircraft can easily take it even if already at Max TO weight and CofG would be spread forward of the wing with little effect unless it was all packed at FS280, in which case the Elevator Control force would be slightly higher for rotation.

    Great case of who done it!

  7. About 10 years ago there was a very similar case involving French pilots / charter airline.
    There the pilots did not think it strange that gangster types with gold chains and guns should load 10 heavy suitcases into the passenger compartment, and claimed to be shocked when the Dominicans carried out a check and found them stuffed with cocaine.
    They got 10 years, after three a commando raid by a far-right wing linked French group freed them, but then they served another 7 years or so in France before being let off by France’s highest court on a technicality.
    Everyone believes they were as guilty as hell and thought one trip would set them up for life.
    Since then all charter pilots have been warned to be very, very careful about the DR. Message not get through?

    • That’s only two passengers, may reduce margins of which the -100 may have less (no LE flaps on it?). But I doubt very noticeable normally. Need to hear from a pilot experienced in the specific type.