Bails, Bullets and A Plane, Cops Nab Drug Plane After Firefight - 09/10/19 11:50 AM
Tonight, police are in possession of more than a tonne of cocaine - after they intercepted a drug plane this morning - after a fiery exchange with the drug runners.
It unfolded very early this morning in the southern Belize District when a team of police and BDF intercepted a drug plane off the Coastal Highway.
We have all the details for you tonight - but we start with the drugs, which are being stored and secured at the Racoon Street Police situation. 7News was there when they arrived:...
Jules Vasquez reporting
The bales of cocaine arrived at the Raccoon Street police station just after 7:00 this morning.
We were kept out of the secure compound, but saw bale after bale offloaded from three pickup trucks and taken upstairs at the Raccoon street station.
Commissioner of police Chester Williams was driving this mobile and wore an operational uniform.
While masked BDF soldiers stood guard in front of the police station - securing the multimillion dollar bust.
As for the drug plane, police got someone to fly the King Air 200 out of the area and it landed at the PGIA this afternoon.
Cops Caught A Ton of Cocaine
But, that's just the prelude to a very big story. In total, 6 foreigners are in police custody for this morning's big drug plane bust.
They have not been charged as yet so police have not released their names but they are 4 Hondurans, 1 Ecuadorian and 1 Mexican - two of them are pilots. 3 of the 6 are under police guard at the KHMH after being injured in the shootout at the illegal airstrip on the coastal road.
Police also recovered 41 bales or 1,210 parcels of cocaine from the scene and - as you saw - the King Air 200 they flew in is also in police custody.
So while those are the facts of the case at this point, what happened out there at the airstrip ?
Well, what unfolded can only be the result of timely and accurate intelligence and a well-coordinated response plan. That's because Belizean authorities were already on the ground laying in wait as the plane landed and the two vehicles showed up to pick up the cargo. That is when Belizean law enforcement pounced on the men. The police opened fire on the men and injured two of the men while another one was reportedly shot by one of their own.
Today at a 3:00pm press briefing in Belmopan Commissioner of Police Chester Williams gave a full run down of what happened on the ground and congratulated his team for this successful drug bust.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"Yesterday during the day we received intelligence of a tracked leaving out of Venezuela. As we would normally do, we mobilized members of the security forces and deployed as different aero dome, both legal and illegal with the hope that the plane would land at one of these aero dome. Our officers remained in place and around 12:18 last night the plane was spotted making a landing on an illegal aero dome off the Coastal Road. The security forces who were in the area remained in place and allowed the plane to land properly before making a move. When the plane landed properly and the pilot had turned off the engine, two vehicles approached the plane with men on board. These men we believe were the ones who were tasked to unload the cargo from the plane. While they were unloading the cargo, the security forces made a move towards them. In that process, they drove off with one of the vehicles and the some of the security forces in pursuit, while others remained in the area of the plane. Shots were fired and our officers returned fire during which two of the fleeing suspects were injured to the hand. They were all apprehended. The two injured were immediately rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital for treatment while other officers remain at the location awaiting the processing of the scene. Scene of Crime were brought in. The plane was processed. The cargo was unloaded and it totalled 41 bails. They were taken to Belize City where the actual processing will be taken place with the forensic personnel and the counting. The counting yielded one 1,210 parcels. Shortly after the security forces department the location of the plane, information was received that a third person was in the bushes with gunshot injuries. The security forces went to make checks and they found the said third person with pellet wounds to the abdomen. According to him, he was shot by one of his own colleague who had also escaped. He was rushed to KHMH where contrary to the reporting the media that he succumbed, he was admitted in a stable condition."
"I want to applaud all the members of the security forces who were involved in this operation. I believe that it was well planned and well-coordinated, hence the reason it yields the success that it did."
"The two vehicles which were used to unload the cargo, where those vehicles detained? Do they have Belizean license plates? Who do they belong to?"
"One of the vehicles had Honduran license plates and the other one had no license plate."
"There were mentioned that there were no Belizeans found, or they weren't found on the scene. Is it fair to say that there is some larger connection to a group here in Belize that helped?"
"That would be assuming and he don't want to assume. From what we know these people came into the country days ago and they might have been doing their own canvassing and might have had knowledge of the area, so we don't want to assume."
Now, the police should be very familiar with this airstrip off the coastal road. Our information says that from as early as 2010 - police have known it to be in active use for illicit landings.
So why don't police destroy this airstrip and other well-known illegal landing sites such as this one. Well Commissioner Williams says it is not that straightforward.
"So why not take measures to destroy the airstrip prior to any plane attempting to land?"
"We can't go and destroy people private property, no."
"Who does the property belongs to?"
"I'm not going to go into details with that."
Police say they only found pocket money at the scene other than the drugs and are not sure how many persons are at large. As you heard, no Belizeans were caught on the scene.
The drug cargo has not been weighted yet, but we estimate that the 41 bails or 1,210 parcels weighs over 2,500 pounds, which is more than a ton. But, we stress, the total weight and the street value have not been finalized yet. Hopefully, we can have that by Wednesday.
Creating a Regional Defense Against Drug Planes
CEO in the Ministry of National Security George Lovell was also at the police press briefing head table. He spoke about strengthening ties with their Central American counterparts to better respond to transnational crime.
Ret'd Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security
"I have in fact been working with our partners. The question was asked if there is any sort of liaison being done with Interpol and those other organizations. I want to say that just recently I had the opportunity to visit one of the regional centers for intelligent sharing in Salvador and I can tell you that we are looking favourably at seeing if Belize can participate in those kinds of centers and forums. I just had a conversation with my commissioner of police and before I get ahead of myself publicly, we still have not have a conversation yet with our political authorities to see if this is something that they will accept. I can say from what I've seen that there are in fat value for Belize to be participating in this and so that conversation will be have very soon with the minister of national security and certainly the national security council to see if this is something that we can further. But we have been working closely with our allies and it is the kind of sharing of information that caused us to have this kind of successes that we are a people are in fact seeing her in Belize and so that will continue."
We'll keep following this story and have more on Wednesday.