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Apr 24, 2018

Business Jet Turned Drug Plane Makes Landing and Discharge in O.W.

The sixth suspected drug place since the start of the year landed in a remote area off the San Estevan/Progresso Road in the Orange Walk District and like in the past cases, there is little information as to how the drug planes keep landing in Belize undetected. This morning, according to residents in the area, they heard the plane hovering around three o’clock. The mostly cane farming community would then spot the jet at the crack of dawn on a dirt road that was recently upgraded presumably to allow for the smooth landing. About a quarter mile from where the plane sat, there are signs that bushes had also been cleared to facilitate the landing.  The jet was empty; its content had already been discharged and the pilot or passengers were nowhere in the vicinity.  A News Five team was able to discern certain particulars of the jet which was under heavy police guard and up until now authorities remain mum. Duane Moody files the following report.

 

Lindsay Garbutt

Lindsay Garbutt, Director, Civil Aviation [File: December 7th, 2017]

“About eleven million went into all the equipment you see and another million and a half in terms of the infrastructure. We wanted to be sure that we have all the latest and best technology and equipment that has to do with air navigation. And through our membership with COCESNA, we were able to acquire that to the extent that Belize has equipment that is used in Europe, all the first world countries. We have our first world air navigation equipment.”

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

…over twelve and a half million dollars invested by government for its Approach Control Center at the Philip Goldson International Airport, which was officially launched in early December of 2017. The state-of-the-art equipment featured an upgraded radar head, which provides information on aircrafts flying over Belize and guides them to land. But even with the advanced technology, five planes, believed to have been carrying illicit cargo, were able to successfully land in Belize undetected.

 

The first was at the start of the year, on January second off the Coastal Road. Less than two months later, there were back to back landings in the north on February twenty-sixth in Indian Church/Hill Bank area of Orange Walk District and Libertad Village, Corozal on February twenty-seventh. And the most recent was on March fifteenth near Cuatro Leguas in the Blue Creek village of Orange Walk. In all cases, the aircrafts—all identified as twin engine beechcraft—were found burnt; their cargo gone. In the latter, one person was detained in the immediate area, but was questioned and released.

 

Joseph Myvett

ACP Joseph Myvett, Head, National Crimes Investigation Branch [File: March 15th, 2018]

“That is still under investigation, but I am certain upon inspection of the plane that there was some attempt to set it on fire. I know that a search of the area, the police had also observed a white Ford pickup in the river on the Mexican side which seems to have been stuck in the river, but on the Mexican side of the Rio Hondo River. One person was found who is detained that was found coming out of the area prior to the police’s discovery of the aircraft.  The police are currently on the ground conducting an intensive investigation.”

 

This morning, however, another suspected drug plane was discovered up north, this time on the San Estevan/Progresso Road, in a remote stretch of the dirt road approximately two miles from the village. Unofficially, we are told that the aircraft is a twinjet mid-size business jet, similar to that of a Hawker eight hundred, which was produced between 1962 and 2013. The plane has a maximum takeoff weight of twenty-five thousand pounds and its empty weight is about half that amount. Compared to the beechcraft, the plane can travel longer distances and can carry a greater cargo.  But all its contents had been removed before police arrived on the scene; scorch marks on the left wing of the plane suggests that an attempt to burn the plane was unsuccessful.

 

Residents say that early this morning around three o’clock they heard the sound of a low-flying plane in the area and around five a.m., the discovery was made. Caneros transferring cane to the mill say that they saw markers on the ground overnight. Police guarded the aircraft as personnel from the Civil Aviation Department conducted their investigation into the unauthorized landing. Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Belize also arrived after midday to do their own inspection of the aircraft.  The recent U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report states that “Belize’s drug control efforts are hampered by the same challenges faced by the rest of the country’s security sector – corruption, insufficient investigative capacity, an ineffective judicial sector and a lack of political will.”

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General [File: April 19th, 2018]

“What evidence do they have? They have not presented to us any evidence why is it they believe that. It’s based on what? Based on what they are saying we are a major transshipment point of drugs? We don’t have any information from them as to what is the foundation of that analysis. It is a black eye, yes, because they are an elephant and we are a flea in world politics and geo-politics. But at the same time I think it is very unfair and very cowardly that you would pass a judgment like that on Belize without any evidence to show on what based that opinion on.”

 

But the proof is in the statistics on illegal plane landings, with records showing six in the first four months of this year.  What is not known exactly is the cargo that came on the jet; the cargo’s value is believed to be far more than that of the abandoned plane. But who set up the drop? Were there guarantees from Belizeans to the pilot and is the illicit cargo still in Belize or has it already been taken across the border? And most importantly, how do these aircraft continue to land in Belize undetected when a flight within Belize’s airspace should be detected by air traffic controllers?

 

Marsha Hinkson

Marsha Hinkson, Chief Air Traffic Controll Officer, Civil Aviation Department [File: December 8th, 2017]

“The aircraft need to be equipped with what we call a transponder. It is a secondary surveillance radar, therefore, it has to have that equipment on board and apart from that they would need to turn on the equipment. If they do not turn on the equipment they would not be detected by the radar. So, we will be able to pickup aircraft which are firstly equipped and secondly the equipment is turned on.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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2 Responses for “Business Jet Turned Drug Plane Makes Landing and Discharge in O.W.”

  1. Mike G says:

    Let me get this straight. Fat boy wants evidence. OK, how about the six drug planes? And Civil Aviation wants the criminal pilots to turn on their transponders. Yeah right! This whole mess is a joke! The people up north know who is facilitating these landings yet the police know nothing.

  2. ray says:

    Reporters need to be taught about aviation before covering this stuff… Implying that the money was wasted on the radar system is wrong…. Basically, the type of radar used in Air traffic control is not the type used to track illicit aircraft. Don’t expect that it will.

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