Captured Narco Jet Loaded With 69 Bales Of Cocaine Is Biggest Bust In Belize History
Central and South America have seen a huge uptick in the use of business jets to smuggle drugs into incredibly austere locations.
Just after midnight on February 27th, 2020, a suspicious aircraft was tracked moving toward Belize airspace by a neighboring country's counter-narcotics air asset. At just after four in the morning local time, the plane set down on an austere airstrip in Belize. Authorities, working off actionable intelligence regarding where the plane had landed, swarmed the area to find a Gulfstream II (G1159A) business jet loaded with a whopping 69 bales of cocaine on board. According to Belize's Channel 5 News, it is the biggest captured haul of its kind for the country.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of the Belize Police Department, the country's top law enforcement officer, stated the following about the drug smuggling jet's crew and those involved with transferring the illicit stash:
“Inside the plane was sixty-nine bales of what we suspected to be cocaine. Those sixty-nine bales amounted to two thousand, seventy parcels of suspected cocaine. We also found in the area two M-16 rifles and some masks. We believed that those persons who were involved in the plane landing might have seen us coming into the area from a distance and by the time we got to the location they had disappeared. We still have teams in the area searching, with the hope that we will find person or persons. The drugs were subsequently moved from the location.
Let me say that there was no monies being moved, it was only drugs. No money was found on the plane or within the area of the plane. The investigation into the plane landing with a view to ascertain who the players are continues. Fingerprints were lifted from the plane and those prints will be sent to the AFIS, as well as to the Interpol to see if we can make a match either locally or internationally. We believe that the print might be for the pilot so we’ll see if there is anything on the pilot on Interpol database because Interpol does deal with fingerprints as well. So we’ll check to see if there is a match where that is concerned."
It is not clear what country's aerial assets were tracking the plane before it landed in Belize, but Mexico has these capabilities, some of which are quite advanced and provided by the United States. Other countries in the region have their own capabilities for monitoring or even intercepting these flights, any of which may have given authorities in neighboring Belize high-quality intelligence about the flight. The plane was supposedly first spotted over Venezuela.
The GII did not have a visible registration, which isn't uncommon for drug-running operations. Blanking out the aircraft's registration number or donning one that is totally fake is common. These GII aircraft are largely out of service now around the globe, making them incredibly cheap to acquire for this type of one-way flight. They can be had for the low hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, depending on their airworthiness and overall condition. They can also carry a large payload, both in terms of volume and mass, which makes them even more attractive to drug cartels. 69 bales filled with bricks of cocaine is an amazing amount of contraband for one business jet to smuggle on a single trip. We are not sure at this time how many kilos are in an average bale of cocaine, but the street price of this load is likely staggering.
The use of business aircraft to smuggle drugs throughout Central and South America has exploded in recent years and especially in recent months. This is the fourth narco aircraft to have landed and been seized in Belize in 2020 alone. The Cartels' increased use of this smuggling tactic has led some countries to adopt hardline measures in recent years, but nothing has kept the flights from continuing and even increasing. A similar increase in narco submarine traffic and interdictions have also been noted as of late.
Clearly the cartels see the use of these aircraft as a net positive risk-reward equation, regardless of massive seizures like this one. For countries with limited aerial capabilities, like Belize, they are uniquely challenging to deal with.
One thing is certain, there appears to be a major appetite for cheap business aircraft in that part of the world for these nefarious operations.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com