Pivot Air crew detained in Dominican Republic since April could return home soon: CEO

Pivot Air's chief executive says paperwork filed in a Dominican Republic court Friday could allow the airline's five staff kept in the Caribbean nation since April to return home soon.

The paperwork is still pending final court sign-off, but Eric Edmondson said it begins a process that will grant the crew who have been detained for 220 days the necessary government documentation and approvals to fly home.

"We are deeply relieved that these five Canadians will soon return home to their families and loved ones," said Edmondson in a written statement.

"We are grateful for their courage, resilience, and honesty throughout this devastating ordeal.

His statement did not say whether seven passengers detained with the workers will be released too and noted he does not have a timeline for the return of the workers because the case has already faced unforeseen delays.

However, Edmondson urged Dominican Republic authorities to move quickly on the matter and said Pivot was working with the government and unions to ensure staff are brought home "as soon as possible."

The crew and passengers have been held in the Dominican Republic since April 5, when 200 kilograms of cocaine were discovered in the plane's avionics bay and reported to police in Punta Cana.

The plane's captain, Rob Di Venanzo, said they are beyond relieved that they could soon be free.

"Today, the nightmare is finally one step closer to being over," he said in a statement on behalf of the crew.

"These last seven months have been the most difficult thing any of us have ever experienced. We have lived with constant uncertainty away from our loved ones and our lives.

"Even though we have paid an unimaginable price, we know we did the right thing by reporting those drugs seven months ago.”

Following the cocaine discovery, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Canadian Union for Public Employees and Unifor said their members were arbitrarily detained, threatened and prosecuted despite following Transport Canada protocols and international laws.

The crew members — two pilots, two flight attendants and one part-time maintenance engineer on a Pivot Airlines charter flight — were jailed, then later released on bail after surrendering their passports pending further investigation.

The Dominican Republic's National Directorate for Drug Control said in an April 6 release found "eight black packages" in the avionics bay of a private plane bound for Toronto from Punta Cana International Airport. Each package contained 25 smaller packets, the agency said, amounting to more than 440 pounds of cocaine.

The directorate said nine Canadians, one Dominican and one person from India were under investigation.

As the investigation began, Global Affairs Canada spokesman Jason Kung said in an email that the department was aware of the detention and consular officials are providing assistance, but privacy considerations prevented him from disclosing more information.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2022.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press