An Australian pilot is amongst five men charged with cocaine trafficking. The criminal syndicate was let down by a costly cargo management error!
A Cessna 402C, registered VH-TSI, bound for Australia was allegedly laden with so much cocaine it was too heavy to take off. Packed full of AU$80 million ($57.2 million) worth of the narcotic, the plane attempted to take-off from a makeshift airstrip near Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Strangely, the aircraft is currently registered to Ravenpol No. 69 Limited, a firm based in Port Moresby. The sole owner died in violent circumstances in August 2019, according to ABC News.
Even more bizarrely, the pilot, 51-year-old David Cutmore, – who allegedly escaped the mangled wreckage unharmed – later turned himself into the Australian High Commission; he was subsequently detained by PNG police. Mr Cutmore is a former flying instructor from Melbourne, according to the Australian Federal Police. He was imprisoned in 1995, after illegally smuggling wild birds from Australia to New Zealand.
Lead-up to the Crash
The 39-year-old Cessna took off from Mareeba Airport in Queensland at approximately 08:39 local time, on 26th June. The aircraft did not fly to PNG with cocaine onboard, but avoided radar detection nonetheless. VH-TSI flew at 2700 feet – below radar detection height – for 51 minutes. It then disabled its transponder and continued flying to PNG without appropriate clearance.
Upon landing in the grass field in Papa Lea Lea, a small country town near Port Moresby, the pilot and his accomplices (local residents) loaded the Cessna with over 500kg of cocaine – far too much for the aircraft to handle on a short grass runway.
On 26th July, between 13:00 and 14.30, the aircraft crashed while attempting to take-off. The Australian Federal Police said that greed and inexperience are to blame for the bungled getaway attempt.
“This particularly audacious attempt shows just how brazen criminal enterprises can be, but it also highlights just how effective the law enforcement response can be when we all work together.” Peter Timson, Assistant Commissioner, Australian Border Force
Following Mr Cutmore’s arrest, he appeared at the Waigani Committal Court and pleaded guilty to one charge of illegally entering the PNG. Although police found all the cocaine, they failed to provide such evidence to the judge; thus resulting in Mr Cutmore escaping life imprisonment. He was sentenced to a fine of 3000 Kinas ($874) or four months in a PNG jail (including hard labour).
Unluckily enough for David Cutmore, the Australian Federal Police had been tracking him and his Melbourne-based accomplices. The group, linked to the Italian Mafia, was busted in simultaneous raids. Multiple accomplices have been charged for drug-related offences, including conspiracy to import commercial quantities of controlled drugs, money laundering and more.
“With current interstate travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, the attempt to import illicit drugs into Australia shows how opportunistic and greedy organised crime can be.” Ian McCartney, AFP Deputy Commissioner of Investigations
A 31-year-old Melbourne man was also arrested. The Australian Federal Police say he was tasked with collecting the cocaine, with this hollowed-out delivery truck.
Feature Image: ABC News