Another drug plane landed in northern Belize early this morning, and, tonight police have no drugs, and no suspects. In fact all they have is the headache of figuring how to move a very large and valuable aircraft from off a village road. Jules Vasquez has details:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
The jet was found on the San Estevan/Progresso Road early this morning.
It's a British Aerospace 125 700 - commonly known as the Hawker Siddeley 125, described as a mid-sized business jet.
But the business here was drugs, so this one had no seats for passengers inside: all that had been cleared away for a massive drug cargo.
And while the aircraft appears to be intact, under the wings are scorched - from where the crew apparently tried - unsuccessfully - to set it on fire.
This may be some of the accelerant on the ground.
To be sure, it's an impressive machine - especially here - stuck on the edge of a village road, incongruously towering over the arid and bushy landscape.
And to just leave it dumped here - indicates how valuable the cargo must have been.
The call letters point us to registration say it was manufactured in 1983 - and registered in the US, Petersburg Virginia - last certified in 2017.
Police had a strong presence out there today - but, again, closing the stable gates after the horse has bolted. We're told police had intelligence and had teams deployed in the Orange Walk District last night, but this jet eluded the radar and made a safe landing and unloading
The question is now how will they get it out of here. Engineers came to assess its airworthiness - and the problem would be finding a pilot since none in Belize can fly a jet.
One theory is that the plane chose to land on this flat straight road - but then, it couldn't turn to takeoff - it's just a theory - but we need something to start to dispel the mystery
Because these abandoned drug planes are piling up - this is the 7th found in Belize since November of 2017 - and there has been no drugs found, no arrests made. And if 7 were left behind, imagine how many landed and took off again without detection or interception.
As we understand it, police had four teams deployed in northern Belize last night on the lookout for an illicit landing, but they were unable to make the intercept since the jet apparently flew below the radar.
Civil Aviation says it's strictly a police matter since aircraft used for clandestine activities are not the purview of the Department of Civil Aviation.
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, 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.
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, 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, 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.”
The suspected drug plane left abandoned on the Progresso/San Estevan Road on Tuesday morning, remained there up until this afternoon. A team from the Belize Defence Force was on the ground today inspecting and attempting to repair the scorched wings damaged during an attempt to set it on fire. The jet will be taken to the B.D.F. hanger. The particulars of the jet show that it is a British Aerospace one-two-five origin, with a capacity to transport up to twelve thousand five hundred pounds in cargo. Residents in the area say the illegal landing took place around three on Tuesday morning. And it was hours later that persons commuting on the road, would spot the empty and abandoned jet. News Five’s Duane Moody was back in the area this morning and has the following report.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The twinjet mid-size business jet also referred to as the Hawker seven hundred jet that landed overnight on Monday on the San Estevan/Progresso Road remains on site in Orange Walk District. Today there was another landing in the area, though not illegal, because a B.D.F. aircraft which carried a team of four arrived in the area. Those persons were on the ground repairing the aircraft, purportedly to transport the abandoned jet to the B.D.F. air wing in Ladyville, Belize District.
But tonight a source close to News Five has shared new details on the suspected drug jet. Reports are that Orange Walk police received a phone call around two-fifty-three a.m. on Tuesday alerting them of the illegal landing, but didn’t reach the scene until two hours later. It was after five that morning by which time the contents of the plane had been removed and the pilot was nowhere in sight. Now, the San Estevan/Progresso Road is filled with potholes, but interestingly approximately a mile along that straight stretch of road had recently been upgraded. The question is by whom? That stretch is the landing distance required for a jet. On the scene, the trees on either side of the road had been deliberately cut down, presumably to facilitate the landing.
Reports are that a mystery man has been seen prior to every landing since the beginning of the year. While we have been unable to confirm this, the evidence shows that this is the sixth known suspected drug plane to have landed in Belize since November, 2017; five were in this year alone. The cargos have never been located. Duane Moody for News Five.
The drug plane that landed on the San Estevan/Progresso Road has been removed - and it is secured in a hangar at the BDF Airwing in Ladyville tonight.
For sure, it’s nothing to celebrate - since no drugs were intercepted and no arrests made - but it was an unusual sight to see a jet whipping down a village road.
That’s just what happened today when the aircraft - flown by a mystery pilot - used the long, straight road as a runway - and took off in a flash.
From there it went airborne, and then landed at the PGIA just a few minutes later. As we told you the Hawker Sidelley 225 is a twinjet mid-sized business jet - the type used by big corporations and the rich and famous. There’s no word on what this one - manufactured in 1982 will now be used for.
Drug Plane “Super-unknowns”
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the news tonight is that the government found a pilot who could fly the jet, thus getting rid of one major headache and embarrassment - an empty drug plane on the side of the road.
But, the issue remains, police still have no idea who landed the jet in Belize, and what they did with the drugs.
Today, at the bi-weekly police press conference, the head of the National Criminal Investigations Branch told us what they have so far on the illegal landing:
ACP Joseph Myvette - Head, NCIB "On Tuesday the 24th April shortly before 5 AM police received information of an aircraft that had landed on the San Estevan Progresso dirt road. As a result police proceeded to the area where upon arrival they observed a white in color twin engine Hawker Siddeley HS125 Series 700 A aircraft on the ground. The area was secured and later processed. Upon inspection of the aircraft it was found that only the pilot seat was a fix inside the aircraft, the remainder of the seats were removed and there were no other content. The police conducted extensive searches in the area and no other item related to the aircraft was found."
Daniel Ortiz "Given the nature of this particular discovery and especially because the seats and other aspects of the cabin were removed. Do police suspect that this plane was used to off load some illicit cargo, possibly drugs?"
ACP Joseph Myvette “Well, samples were taken from within the cabin of the aircraft which we determined more or less if the cargo was related to drugs or so."
It’s the 7th drug plane that’s landed since November of last year, and in every case, the cops were too late to catch anyone or do anything. So, today, we challenged the cops on their detection capabilities:
Daniel Ortiz "Now speaking generally to the 7 illicit landings that have taken place between this week and November 2017. Is it a concern for police that you have these spikes of illegal landings and is it something that the police are looking at to try to get some sort of technology to detect these aircrafts because obviously the persons operating them are trying to avoid as best as they can and they have been successful so far."
ACP Joseph Myvette - Head, NCIB “Well, we are working in conjunction with our regional counterparts and the police have followed all information in regards suspected aircraft sightings as well as landings in Belize and this is an ongoing series of investigations in relation to these aircrafts."
Daniel Ortiz “Sir do you acknowledge though that working with the regional partners can only get the Belize Police so far when the aircraft enters Belize airspace? You all are basically depending on intelligence and sightings when these persons are moving with urgency and many times police arrive long after these people have done what they've done and departed the scene."
ACP Joseph Myvette “Well, hence the reason I am saying that we will continue to work towards improving the situation across these illegal landings."
Daniel Ortiz "Is that improvement any consideration being made to identify some sort of partnering with international community to assist with technologies required to detect aircraft? More advance technology than Belize currently has."
ACP Joseph Myvette "I will not be able to speak to that level of cooperation. However I can tell you amongst law enforcement agencies they are cooperation regionally."
The Ministry of National Security has explained in a press release that police response is based on initial tracking information and intelligence provided by regional partners. These types of aircraft actively avoid radar detection, and so the cops must rely on actual sightings, and information locally or regionally to try and anticipate the landing areas.
Their statement says, quote, “Although law enforcement authorities try to cover multiple possible landing sites, the pilots also have several landing options and are therefore able to elude authorities.” End quote.