The five crew members of Pivot Airlines discovered and reported contraband found on the aircraft while grounded at the Punta Cana International airport in the Dominican Republic on 5 April.
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.
When the Dominican police searched the space, they found seven other similar sacks.
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”.
INVESTIGAN ONCE PERSONAS POR INCAUTACIÓN DE 200 PAQUETES PRESUMIBLEMENTE COCAÍNA EN AEROPUERTO @CESAC_RD @ProcuraduriaRD https://t.co/OhRPUAo7JM#DNCDRD #TodosUnidos #Decomiso #DNCD pic.twitter.com/SnO5xQFR4Q
— Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas (@DNCDRD) April 6, 2022
The statement added that it was “unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could remain detained for the duration of a potential twelve-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 launched out of Toronto Pearson International Airport in 2021.
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.
The Dominican Republic’s drugs agency took a total of 11 people into custody, including the five crew members.
“An extensive investigation process has been initiated around this case,” the local drugs agency said in a statement. “The Public Ministry, assisted by DNCD agents, are working hard to clearly establish who is directly linked to the seizure of the substance.”
On Tuesday, a Dominican court “decided to improve the conditions for crew, and outlined a process for their eventual release from detention”, CTV News reported.
Pivot airlines said it was “grateful for the decision” and was working diligently to secure its crew’s release.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said they were “aware” of the situation but didn’t provide any further clarification.