NATIONAL SECURITY PERSONNEL INTERCEPTS AIRCRAFTS ON NORTHERN HIGHWAY
Sometime after 2:00am on Friday March 7, 2008 police in Orange Walk received information of armed masked men stopping vehicles on the Northern Highway somewhere between miles 40 and 41. As a result, a Belize Defense Force team in Orange Walk and a team of police officer were alerted. The teams responded with the Belize Defense Force at the lead. The BDF teams upon reaching the area observed a vehicle in the middle of the highway with bright lights on immediately behind was an aircraft also in the middle of the highway. Seeming refueling. Upon advancing, the teams were fired upon. They immediately returned fire. They then observed the vehicle that was on the highway moving toward the team before turning off the highway and into the nearby bushes the aircraft remain on the highway the aircraft was observed to be a white with gold and blue stripes King Air E 90 Beach craft with false registration YV678. Several persons were seen fleeing the immediate area. Found inside the aircraft were nine(9) 15 gallon containers with what appeared to be JET A-1 fuel, a flare gun, a GPS and food items. Outside the aircraft were two 15 gallon containers with suspected JET A-1 fuel. In the nearby bushes security forces found a white Isuzu FUSO six wheel, container truck with L/p OW A- 4161. In the container of the truck was a black rotoplas tanks with suspected JET A-1 fuel, nineteen (18) gallon containers also suspected to contain JET A-1 fuel. It is believed that the cargo was off loaded prior to the arrival of Security Forces. Police has since detained five persons for questioning and are processing the scene and the aircraft. The civil aviation department was brought in along with their BDF counterpart to assess the aircraft prior to its removal. Investigation continues http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beechcraft_King_AirThat should make a nice addition to the BDF airwing!
Drug Plane Lands on
In the marijuana boom of the 1980's, the Northern Highway - with its long
stretches of pavement was the runway of choice for drug planes. It got so
bad that at one point, that upright poles were erected on the shoulders of
the highway to prevent planes from landing. But those days have gone, and
for some time we haven't heard of drug planes landing on one of Belize's
main highways. But it happened this morning - a sign of either increased
desperation or daring on the part of drug runners. And while it had all
signs of being a narco-plane, no drugs were found. And why is that? I went
to Orange Walk to find out today.
Jacqueline Godwin Reporting,
A twin engine Beechcraft with a Venezuelan flag on its tail wing and what
local authorities believe to be a fake registration number YV678, landed at
mile forty one on the Northern Highway sometime after one this morning.
Police say the unidentified pilot carried a drug cargo and jet fuel and was
met on the ground by armed masked men who had earlier cleared the road for
the landing. Motorists who were stopped informed the police.
ASP Bart Jones, Commander - Anti-Drug Unit
"Police in Orange Walk received a call that there were armed masked men on
the Northern Highway between miles 40 and 41 on the highway stopping
vehicles. As a result they alerted the Belize Defense Force and as well the
Anti-Drug Unit and all teams responded."
7NEWS understands that the plan was for the plane to land, drop off the
drugs, refuel, and then take off again - heading back to where it came
from. But as the plane was being refueled, BDF soldiers pulled up to the
scene. There was an exchange of gunfire as the suspects opened fire on the
ASP Bart Jones,
"They immediately came under fire, they responded in kind and as a result
the men who appeared to have been refueling the aircraft ran into the
nearby bushes and a truck, that was beside the aircraft, also sped off in
the nearby bushes as well."
However five of the bullets tore through the truck's windshield possibly
injuring its driver believed to be a Belizean national who police know and
is being sought.
Robert Mariano, Commander - Orange Walk Police
"So we have not found anybody injured and none of the BDF are injured.
However we believe that one person who was in the small truck had been
injured because there is some trace of blood in the front of the vehicle
and there are gunshots on the windshield which show that the person who was
driving the vehicle had received some kind of gunshot wound."
To the rear of the truck police found a nine hundred gallon rotoplast tank
that authorities believe was used to refuel the aircraft. The truck's
Orange Walk license plates were also found in the cab of the vehicle.
Police do not know just how many were on board, but they all got away,
leaving behind some evidence for authorities to retrieve. At this time,
police don't know if the drug cargo was dropped at another location before
the plane landed or if it was hauled away from the scene. But when the law
enforcement officers searched the aircraft, all they found was jet fuel:
ASP Bart Jones,
"We saw nine containers, about 15 gallon containers, with jet fuel and as
well no one was in the area at the time and we are investigating this matter."
But while no drugs were found police strongly believe there was a large
quantity of it on the plane.
"We cannot say how much at this time but I can safely say, because of the
size of the plane, it would be around a ton or more."
ASP Bart Jones,
"We believe that the cargo that it brought may have been offloaded. We
believe that it brought a shipment of drugs, that is our belief at this
time. However we have no other evidence to support it at this time and we
believe it was offloaded onto vehicles that may have been in the area and
the other guys that were here upon the arrival of the BDF were refueling
the plane for it to return."
As police and BDF extended their search they found five Belizeans all
Orange Walk residents about a quarter mile away from where the plane
landed. They are suspected to be local contacts.
"They were found on the Northern Highway, just about half hour from the
scene itself and they were unable to give account of themselves. Whilst I
am not afraid to say or it is just right for me to say a few of them have
given confessions and said to the police exactly what had happened."
According to the Minister of National Security Carlos Perdomo he cannot say
if the BDF's radar had detected the aircraft as it entered our airspace. He
did say though that they had intelligence of an impending drop but they
didn't know where it would take place. Perdomo says they suspect the plane
came from Colombia.
Carlos Perdomo, Minister of National Security
"We had gotten some previous that there might have been a drop but with
these cases like this you don't know if it is down south, you don't know if
it is on the cayes, you don't know if it is Sarteneja. We had intelligence
and the radars do work to track the plane at night but sometimes they would
fly around for hours and our territory is so narrow that sometimes the
plane would come across Belize but you don't know if it will land."
And approximately eight hours after landing at mile forty one on the
Northern Highway the plane, disabled by the gunfire was pulled off to the
side of the road to traffic that had been interrupted for hours to run
ASP Bart Jones,
"When the BDF returned fire, in the process the aircraft was damaged and as
a result it is not considered air worthy at this time. So what the
mechanics are doing is, I believe, they will be taking off the wings and
the aircraft will be transported to Ladyville."
The investigation will be headed by the Anti Drug Unit while the Police and
BDF have now expanded their search for the key suspects who are believed to
still be hiding out somewhere in the Northern District. Three years ago
that a similar incident unfolded also in the Orange Walk District. Carlos
"We are dealing with some very intelligent criminals, so they change their
modus operandi. The job of the police and the security forces is to try to
figure out where they may be moving next. But I think one difference will
be is that the policy of this government is to go after them a little harder."
But Perdomo admits it will be a difficult battle to fight.
"These plane drops are part of a transnational crime ring so I don't know
if there is anything we in Belize can do to stop it. What we have to do is
to be smart enough and intelligent enough in our intelligence work and in
operational work to try to interdict them. What we are doing now is to sit
down to try and fine tune it to try to put maybe more ideas that will lead
to better interdiction, better mobility, better equipment, better
cooperation with our international police partners."
According to ASP Bart Jones the plane should be out of the area by the end
of the day.
And the latest development is that the man who police believe was driving
the vehicle was arrested this afternoon. He was found at his home in Orange
Walk with injuries to his leg and back. Those injuries are believed to have
been sustained in the firefight with the BDF. He is held pending charges -
bringing the total number detained to 6. Their names will only be released
if and until they are charged.