Canadian Airline Crew Jailed In Dominican Republic For Reporting Drugs

Canadian Airline Crew Jailed In Dominican Republic For Reporting Drugs

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A five person Canadian airline crew has now been trapped in the Dominican Republic for over two months (including being jailed), after reporting that they found suspicious packages on their plane. This story is simply terrible.

200kg of cocaine found on Pivot Airlines jet

On April 5, 2022, Canadian charter operator Pivot Airlines was supposed to operate a flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ), to Toronto, Canada (YYZ), using the carrier’s sole CRJ-100ER. During pre-flight checks, a maintenance engineer (who was part of the carrier’s crew) found black duffel bags in the maintenance bay, which typically wouldn’t hold luggage.

The crew immediately reported this to authorities in both the Dominican Republic and Canada, since they didn’t know if it was drugs, a bomb, or something else. Sniffer dogs were brought out, and it was determined that the bags contained 200kg of cocaine, valued at around $25 million.

The Pivot Airlines drug bust

The crew assumed officers would thank them for reporting these findings, but instead the crew faced a very different fate, and are still stuck in the Dominican Republic to this day. For that matter, Pivot Airlines’ only plane (a 26-year-old jet with the registration code C-FWRR) is also still in the Dominican Republic, and hasn’t been allowed to depart.

Crew jailed & not allowed to leave Dominican Republic

Following the incident, the entire five person crew was thrown in jail. They stayed there for a period of nine days, and describe absolutely horrendous conditions, including being extorted and threatened, having to sleep standing up or next to a hole in the floor that acted as a toilet, and having dead bodies stacked up outside their cells.

After nine days, the crew was released from jail, and ever since they’ve been in a safe house in the Dominican Republic that’s paid for by the airline, with 24-hour surveillance. The crew hasn’t formally been charged with anything, but it’s believed that the crew members are considered people of interest in this complex drug trafficking case.

The crew members of course maintain their innocence. A few thoughts:

  • I’m inclined to believe that at least most crew members had no clue about this and are completely innocent, given that the crew reported the incident (and if they were all involved, this wouldn’t have been done)
  • It’s possible that none of the crew members knew anything (and that it was ground personnel on both ends involved), or it’s possible that one crew member was involved in the scheme, and simply is playing dumb

On the surface this seems like an egregious and cruel way to treat an airline crew, when they’re presumably all (or at least mostly) innocent. We’ve definitely seen instances in the past where entire crews were involved in smuggling, but on the surface this doesn’t come across as one of those cases.

The crew is awaiting a new court date, and fears that prosecutors are trying to send them back to jail. The crew is now asking the Canadian government to bring them back home, and promise to participate remotely in the investigation. They even made a video with a plea directly to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Bottom line

A five person crew of a Canadian charter airline was scheduled to operate a flight from Punta Cana to Toronto in early April, and 200kg of cocaine was found in the maintenance bay during pre-flight checks. The crew reported this to authorities, but rather than being commended for that, the crew was thrown in jail for nine days.

The crew has been released on bail, but has now been in the Dominican Republic for more than two months under house arrest. While I can appreciate the need for an investigation to be performed, holding people for this long without charging them with a crime is pretty awful, especially when they were the ones to report the findings.

Could you imagine just going about your job as a pilot or flight attendant, ready to perform a flight, and hours later finding yourself in a jail cell in another country with awful conditions? I hope that something is done to help this crew return safely to Canada.

What do you make of this story?

(Tip of the hat to Mike)

Conversations (31)
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  1. John Guest

    Ben,

    I know you regularly post about non-points stuff, and I usually enjoy such posts. However, I really can’t see the point of a post that’s full of baseless speculation and opinion that you must surely know will attract a bevy of hateful remarks and even more baseless speculation in the comments. You’re better than that.

    I love OMAAT and read every day, but this kind of post really isn’t you at your best!

    1. Ley Guest

      As a Canadian, I respectfully disagree. Sadly, this is the first I've heard about this, it hasn't been in the news. And as much as Ben's opinion and speculation may elicit hateful remarks in the comments, it also prompts readers with actual experience as pilots to offer their point of view as to whether or not it's possible for none of the crew to be involved.

      I appreciate Ben's posts and the ones that don't pertain to me I just skip over.

  2. Blaz Guest

    Lesson learnt. Next time they only contact the authorities of their own country and let them sort it out. ..with a bit of luck, this may have allowed them to spring the real drug dealers.

  3. Azamaraal Diamond

    This is a terrible situation for the crew but demonstrates how little respect the world has for Canada, once a proud democratic nation.

    To expect Trudeau to do anything requiring a spine is very unfortunately misplaced. Since the Meng Wanzhou incident in 2018 he has been proven totally disinterested in the plight of Canadians abroad. In that incident Meng was held for deportation at the request of the US government as she had violated trade...

    This is a terrible situation for the crew but demonstrates how little respect the world has for Canada, once a proud democratic nation.

    To expect Trudeau to do anything requiring a spine is very unfortunately misplaced. Since the Meng Wanzhou incident in 2018 he has been proven totally disinterested in the plight of Canadians abroad. In that incident Meng was held for deportation at the request of the US government as she had violated trade laws as part of her job at Huawei. China in retaliation arrested the "two Michael's" and imprisoned them without charges or trial for three years. Trudeau did nothing.

    Sadly they will be ignored. The Dominican Republic relies on Canada for financial aid among other things so a little pressure would go a long way. Trudeau will only do things to get votes or push is climate crisis agenda so this issue will be solved.

    1. Azamaraal Diamond

      oops this issue will never be solved by him.

  4. Stuart Guest

    What a horrifying experience. I would love to see some follow ups on this.

  5. Sal Guest

    The airline just needs to pull a Ghosn and smuggle them out.

  6. Darren C Gold

    The local police, airport authorities, custom and immigration were counting on those 200kg to make it to Canada in a timely manner, so this crew got punished as a lesson to other crews.

    Where is the cocaine now? My guess is that it made it out on the next flight.

    My recommendation: Wait to report contraband until after you have left another country's airspace, and never fly back there again.

  7. Eskimo Guest

    Waiting for @Sean M to share stories like this in Africa.

  8. tda Guest

    I can understand not wanting them to leave the country while under investigation, but it's been over two months and they haven't either charged the one(s) they think were involved or released any they have ruled out? Also, it's not like Canada is going to let the crew go free if they're allowed to return but authorities in DR later provide evidence to show their involvement in an attempt to smuggle 200kg of cocaine into Canada...

  9. Amy Fischer Guest

    The comments on here are awful and I guess that’s why the police state exists.

    In the first place, there should be no drug laws and no criminalizing of people consuming or selling something they determine they want to put into their own body. Freedom of body Trumps what others “democracy” decide what we should and should not be allowed to take. All drug cases should be moot.

    These flight crew members were held...

    The comments on here are awful and I guess that’s why the police state exists.

    In the first place, there should be no drug laws and no criminalizing of people consuming or selling something they determine they want to put into their own body. Freedom of body Trumps what others “democracy” decide what we should and should not be allowed to take. All drug cases should be moot.

    These flight crew members were held in conditions that amount to torture. Wars have started for less. Nothing a person ever does justifies this treatment. The police and jail workers are the criminals here.

    There is also no excuse in holding people just because one may be “guilty”.

    These crew members have a moral obligation to have righteous hatred and take any actions they deem fit as retribution for their treatment. Nothing ever will change until actual victims of abuse themselves take action because there aren't enough good people who will take action on their behalf.

    1. Ray Gold

      Guess what @Cecilsader, @Amy Fischer has two helpfuls and you have one. You lose so who is the posting nutjob diatribes? Her point regarding drug laws isn't accepted by the US government as a viable option but is a very credible argument. Just Say No has probably caused more agony, grief, racism, money and is a complete failure.

    2. Dan77W Guest

      Ray don’t get all high and mighty….I might agree with Amy but she went down a rambling political ideological tangent just as I could ramble about the feasibility and economics of flying a CRJ with such long stage length as a charter…. it takes it down a rabbit hole. I agree with Cecil?, Amy’s rant was a bit unrelated and nutty, but funny!

    3. Cecilsader Guest

      @Ray,

      Well I’ve got 1 more helpful than you at 0, so by ur measure I guess that means u are completely useless!

  10. Robert Schultz Guest

    This is just crazy. Doesn't the governor think? If the crew is treated like this why would any other company fly into the country. It could happen to them just as easy

    I'm praying for the crew

  11. Dan77W Guest

    Perspective from a pilot that flies to the DR a lot:

    Much more probable it was a local Maintenance/Engineering or (less likely) a ramp person. The aft maintenance bay is never looked at during a normal pilot walkaround, which is what any normal aircraft would normally be subjected too. BUT on this flight they were carrying a company maintenance technician with them so the aircraft was subjected to a much more thorough look over...

    Perspective from a pilot that flies to the DR a lot:

    Much more probable it was a local Maintenance/Engineering or (less likely) a ramp person. The aft maintenance bay is never looked at during a normal pilot walkaround, which is what any normal aircraft would normally be subjected too. BUT on this flight they were carrying a company maintenance technician with them so the aircraft was subjected to a much more thorough look over before flight, and of course the rest of the crew knew this tech was on board so they wouldn’t be naive enough to stash the drugs in a fairly easily discoverable spot. It was a local attempt and they should be looking for the person that was undoubtedly the “receiver” up at the destination FBO.

  12. Andy 11235 Guest

    It seems terribly strange that a bag of drugs would magically appear on the airplane without some involvement from at least one member of the crew. At the least, retrieval at the destination would require someone with knowledge of and access to the plane -- this isn't a commercial flight where someone might just pick up the bag from the carousel and try to get it through customs. What seems most likely is that someone...

    It seems terribly strange that a bag of drugs would magically appear on the airplane without some involvement from at least one member of the crew. At the least, retrieval at the destination would require someone with knowledge of and access to the plane -- this isn't a commercial flight where someone might just pick up the bag from the carousel and try to get it through customs. What seems most likely is that someone on the crew was involved in smuggling without the knowledge of the others, and until the DR police know who, they have to keep all of them within their jurisdiction. It definitely sucks for the innocent members of the crew, but I'm not really sure what else you would expect the police to do.

    1. DenB Diamond

      expect the police to do? Treat all persons as innocent unless and until there's evidence to accuse them. Duh

    2. Frogger Guest

      Many countries presume you are guilty until proven innocent. Many Caribbean and Asian countries operate that way especially for foreigners. The prison conditions described are not at all uncommon outside of the US (and even in some backwaters in the US). I find it interesting that the airline or the Canadian government have done so little; but maybe they have tried through back channels. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

  13. JetAway Guest

    I agree that it is likely at least one crew member is involved in this and the DR is holding the entire crew until they can determine which one(s).

    1. DenB Diamond

      kinda like refusing boarding to all, because some are refusing to wear their symbol. sorry, I mean masks

    2. snic Diamond

      I'm not sure why you'd draw that conclusion. It's entirely plausible that it was the ground staff who put the drugs there, and that operation was organized by a criminal syndicate that also arranged for ground staff at the destination to retrieve the drugs. The entire thing could easily have had nothing whatsoever to do with the flight crew.

  14. S Member

    Really weird story. I agree that on its face it makes no sense to report it if you are smuggling the drugs, but I also don't get how that much cocaine just shows up either. I could be persuaded by either side of the story I think. If it was less cocaine, I wouldn't trust the "They could be guilty" side, but THAT much cocaine? I am thinking someone on the trip is a mule and the others didn't know and reported it.

  15. Mike Guest

    Just cancelled our family trip for 6 people later this year. That’s $8000 the D.R. won’t be getting from me. Not interested in supporting corrupt regimes.

    1. kanga Guest

      Don't visit the U.S. and its kangaroo court system then. I assume you're not from there, right?

  16. Skaner Guest

    Not sure I would trust their judicial system. Just bribe some border guards to go to Haiti and fly them out.

  17. Hobbs Guest

    One of the crew members knew about the drugs, but they’re not about to give it up. 200kg just doesn’t appear out of nowhere.

    1. RafMiles Guest

      Exactly. No doubt some of them have nothing to do with this, but its naive to think that they are all innocent bystanders.

      “on the surface” a crew member is screwing their colleagues by protecting themselves. Even if others were involved, i find it hard to believe (on the surface) that a 1 plane operation had no idea that one of their colleagues was doing something outside of regular procedure.

      Now for those that...

      Exactly. No doubt some of them have nothing to do with this, but its naive to think that they are all innocent bystanders.

      “on the surface” a crew member is screwing their colleagues by protecting themselves. Even if others were involved, i find it hard to believe (on the surface) that a 1 plane operation had no idea that one of their colleagues was doing something outside of regular procedure.

      Now for those that think my comments are jumping to conclusions too quickly, thats kinda the point, Ben is doing the same in the other direction.

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The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Dan77W Guest

Perspective from a pilot that flies to the DR a lot: Much more probable it was a local Maintenance/Engineering or (less likely) a ramp person. The aft maintenance bay is never looked at during a normal pilot walkaround, which is what any normal aircraft would normally be subjected too. BUT on this flight they were carrying a company maintenance technician with them so the aircraft was subjected to a much more thorough look over before flight, and of course the rest of the crew knew this tech was on board so they wouldn’t be naive enough to stash the drugs in a fairly easily discoverable spot. It was a local attempt and they should be looking for the person that was undoubtedly the “receiver” up at the destination FBO.

11
Amy Fischer Guest

The comments on here are awful and I guess that’s why the police state exists. In the first place, there should be no drug laws and no criminalizing of people consuming or selling something they determine they want to put into their own body. Freedom of body Trumps what others “democracy” decide what we should and should not be allowed to take. All drug cases should be moot. These flight crew members were held in conditions that amount to torture. Wars have started for less. Nothing a person ever does justifies this treatment. The police and jail workers are the criminals here. There is also no excuse in holding people just because one may be “guilty”. These crew members have a moral obligation to have righteous hatred and take any actions they deem fit as retribution for their treatment. Nothing ever will change until actual victims of abuse themselves take action because there aren't enough good people who will take action on their behalf.

3
Endre Guest

Great example of false correlation

3
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