Canadian photographer Brittney Wojcik-Harrison was detained alongside 5 other passengers and five Pivot Airlines crew members on April 5th, after $25 million worth of cocaine was found inside the aircraft. Ms Wojcik-Harrison, the flight crew and all other passengers remained in a Punta Cana jail for three weeks, even though there is little to no evidence connecting them to drug smuggling.
Authorities in Punta Cana were alerted to inspect the C-FWRR Pivot Airlines plane, originally bound from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Toronto, Canada, after a mechanic noticed a bag hidden in the avionics bay of the aircraft. Upon inspection, officials discovered 8 bags stowed in the bay of the charter plane which contained more than 200 kilograms of cocaine.
The Pivot Airlines plane first arrived in Punta Cana on March 31st, as a chartered flight transporting potential investors associated with an Albertan company.
It was due to leave on April 5th, when the drugs were found.
Initially, Dominican officials believed that the 5 passengers on the Pivot Airlines plane were using vacationing in Punta Cana as a front for trafficking cocaine into Toronto and possibly beyond. However, prosecutors later realised that the passengers did not carry the 8 black gym bags filled with cocaine onto the aircraft, as they had no way of accessing the avionics bay.
There is also a lack of evidence to suggest that the Pivot crew intended to smuggle the drugs on the flight, as it was two crew members who originally found the bags and reported them to Punta Cana authorities. The captain and the first officer were reportedly in the cockpit prior to the flight’s departure, when the crew’s mechanic stated he had taken a photograph of a black bag in the avionics bay. They then alerted Pivot’s vice president of operations and the local authorities, before asking all crew and passengers on board to leave the aircraft.
Despite the arrests taking place at the start of April, news of the incident only reached North America on April 28th. Global Affairs Canada has since acknowledged the situation at hand, announcing that Canadian officials are ‘monitoring the situation closely, engaging with local authorities and providing consular assistance.
However, Pivot airlines responded with a statement on the 29th of April, suggesting that the Canadian government should make a greater effort to get the 11 in jail home safely, particularly as prosecutors have found no evidence linking them to the smuggled cocaine.
The airline stated: “They miss their families. They fear for (their) lives, as well as their mental and physical well-being. And they want to come home”.
Whilst there is a lack of evidence connecting the 11 arrested with smuggling, the Dominican government is preventing the accused from leaving the country until they finish investigating the case, which could take longer than a year to complete.
In response to the detainment, Wojcik-Harrison’s family created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for legal aid, food and a flight to bring her home to Canada. Described as a person ‘full of life and love’, Ms Wojcik-Harrison is a skilled photographer with a bachelor’s degree from Alberta University of Art and Design. She is also reported to have no known criminal record in Canada or elsewhere.
The GoFundMe page also describes the living conditions in jails in the Dominican Republic as ‘inhumane’ and ‘extremely unsafe’ and calls for individuals to donate any money they can spare to help further the case.
As of May 3rd, $1,375 has been raised for the $10,000 goal, and Ms Wojcik-Harrison has been given a phone to communicate with her legal team and family.
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