Crew detained for eight months
and Maude Boutet UPDATE DAY
A pilot jailed for nearly eight months in the Dominican Republic for exposing a plot to export 200 kilos of cocaine warns Quebec tourists transiting through Punta Cana airport.
“I'll never fly there again,” rants Robert Di Venanzo of Pivot Airlines, a small airline in Toronto. The J.E team met him in the company hangar just over a month after his return to freedom.
Robert Di Venanzo, Captain.
On April 5, 2022, the captain and four crew members of Pivot Airlines were performing preliminary checks on their CRJ-100 twin jet, which was to bring their seven passengers to the Toronto airport.
However, an alarm indicated that the hold located under the nose of the aircraft was not closed.
210 KG OF COCAINE
When trying to close it, they discovered eight sports bags that contained 210 kg of cocaine.
The pilot immediately informed the local authorities and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of his disturbing discovery.
“We thought we were doing the right thing, we even joked with the Dominion Command officers. drug control while she searched the plane,” Captain Di Venanzo recalls.
The crew and passengers were thrown into the overcrowded prison of Higuey about fifty kilometers from Punta Cana. Dominican justice seized their passports and prevented them from leaving the country awaiting a trial that will never come.
For the next eight months, airline employees have been assigned at residence. A team of armed guards had to change their hideout several times.
“We went grocery shopping escorted by guys with submachine guns,” recalls Mr. Di Venanzo.
“It's a real illegal detention,” says Dominican journalist and sociologist Lisandro Torres, who points out that the suspects have never been charged or questioned in this case and that they have never been tried. < /p>
It took the genius of flight attendant Christina Carello to get out of this mess.
< p>Looking at the airport surveillance camera footage filed in evidence, she noticed that 40 minutes of the surveillance camera footage pointed at the aircraft had been deleted.
However, the video from another camera showed a Punta Cana airport truck approaching the runway in the middle of the night, while the crew slept at the hotel.
< p>The crew learned on November 11 that he was going to be released. The prosecutor in charge of the case said there was not enough evidence to hold a trial.
Pilots fear Punta airport Cana
Quebec pilots fear landing in the Dominican Republic since the unjustified imprisonment of a Pivot Airlines crew.
“These pilots thought they were gone for three days and then left for eight months . It's traumatic. I have no doubt that they will drag this with them for a long time, ”says Air Transat captain Dominic Daoust.
If he were faced with the same situation as the Toronto pilots, he would report the presence of the drugs only when the wheels of his plane had left the ground.
“Me, I am not ready to take the risk with my crew and the passengers to subject them to all that”, he concludes.
The Canadian Air Line Pilots Association is also concerned.
“Our position is clear: an airline pilot should never have to choose between air safety and freedom. They did their job and were imprisoned for doing it properly,” says its president, Louis-Éric Mongrain.
RISKS AT THE AIRPORT
Recent events suggest the presence of a criminal group at the Punta Cana airport.
“There is a structure in this airport that ensures that there are drugs on planes and in suitcases… There is really a risk of transiting through this airport, unfortunately,” alleges Dominican journalist and sociologist Lisandro Torres.
A national Belgian is still in prison after employees of the Punta Cana airport were caught in the act of placing 50 kilos of cocaine in his luggage.
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