Earlier this month, Dominican law enforcement personel detained the pilots and crew members of a Canadian charter airline after the aircraft was found carrying parcels of cocaine. In total, eleven crew members were questioned by authorities, but only 5 remain detained. Pivot Airlines, the charter company that owns the aircraft, issued a statement calling for the release of its crew, who could face up to 12 months behind bars while officials continue to investigate the case. The National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD) was in charge of carrying out the operation, together with local police forces.
After arriving at Punta Cana Airport in late March, the crew was getting ready to fly back to Toronto, from where the flight originated. Before departing on April 5th, five crew members noticed a mysterious package while the aircraft was still on the ground at Punta Cana Airport. After alerting the police of their findings, the entire crew was quickly detained for further questioning. Upon closer inspection, local police found eight more similar bags hidden around the plane, each weighing around 20 kilograms.
The aircraft in question, a CRJ 200, was later found to be carrying a total of 200 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of 25 million dollars.
Among the suspects are nine Canadians, one Indian, and one Dominican. The airline has refused to reveal the identity of the suspects for privacy reasons. According to the suspects, the crew helped avoid a potential air catastrophe because the packages were hidden in compartments containing electrical equipment and sensors. If the aircraft had taken off, many of them may have malfunctioned. Despite acting with the safety of the aircraft and passengers in mind, the crew was shocked to find out that they were being detained.
The pilots have indicated that the compartments in which the drugs were hidden are usually not accessed by cabin crew, but rather by ground maintenance employees, who work on the aircraft while it’s parked on the tarmac. Meanwhile, the public attorney has stated it is working hard to determine who – if any – of the crew members is directly related to the incident.
The company has released a statement regarding the detainment facilities. They are worried about the crew’s well-being as well as legal rights. In the statement, the airline says that the captains, as well as other crew members, are being held in separate detention cells. Moreover, it seems that they are sharing the space with other individuals accused of drug-related crimes.
There is some good news, too. Earlier this April, a Dominican court agreed to improve the detainees’ conditions and indicated a possible timeline for their release. In a worst-case scenario, the crew could be held up for the entire duration of the investigation, which could last up to twelve months. Whilst the company has thanked the authorities for agreeing to address the detainment conditions, it remains concerned over the legal process.
With dozens of flights between the Dominican Republic and the United States and Canada, drug trafficking remains a major risk for these countries. Whilst illegal drugs often originate in Southern American countries like Colombia, the Dominican Republic’s close proximity to the North American market makes it an attractive destination for smugglers. Drug trafficking is a serious crime in the Dominican Republic. Suspects found guilty of this crime can face long jail sentences. Last year, a man in San Pedros de Marcorís was sentenced to six years on charges of drug trafficking.
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