A Canadian airline is calling on Dominican Republic officials to free their five-person crew thrown in prison for suspected drug smuggling after they reported a stash of cocaine hidden on the plane that they thought was a bomb.
Pivot Airlines said its crew members found the contraband on the aircraft while on the tarmac at the Punta Cana airport on April 5, and reported it to local police in the Dominican Republic and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
A maintenance engineer who was part of the crew had opened a door under the plane’s fuselage to access the ‘avionics bay’ when he noticed a single bag. He didn’t know whether it was contraband, a bomb or something else, and immediately reported the shocking find, said a source familiar with the situation
Dominican police searched the space and found seven other gym bags, each containing 25 smaller packages of cocaine, totaling 200 packages, according to the Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD).
Local police say the cocaine is worth about $25 million, the Independent reported.
The airline claims the entire incident is a mix-up and that 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.’
The identities of the crew have not been revealed, but they included the captain, first officer, two cabin members and the maintenance engineer
The Public Ministry and the DNCD have jailed the crew and six other people, including four Canadian passengers, a Hindu and a Dominican. They are being questioned about their knowledge of the stash of drugs that was on the aircraft.
‘An extensive investigation process has been initiated around this case, the Public Ministry, assisted by DNCD agents, are working hard to clearly establish who is directly linked to the seizure of the substance,’ the press release states
Pivot Airlines said it was ‘unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could remain detained for the duration of a potential 12-month investigation for a suspected crime that they reported’.
‘They do not speak the language, have been identified as reporting the contraband to authorities and fear for their safety. We are deeply concerned for the safety, security and ethical and humane treatment of our crew,’ said the airline, which launched out of Toronto Pearson International Airport last year.
The airline said the crew members were being held in separate detention facilities, and that the men were inside communal cells with accused drug criminals.
On Tuesday, a Dominican court ‘decided to improve the conditions for crew, and outlined a process for their eventual release from detention’. .