Suspicion rife over burnt-out aircraft found in St Elizabeth
ELIM, St Elizabeth — Even as a multi-agency probe is underway to determine the circumstances that led to the discovery of a burnt-out small aircraft here Friday night, speculation is rife that the plane may have been involved in drug trafficking.
The wreck of the aircraft was found in a swamp in the Elim/Braes River area, a few miles north-east of Santa Cruz.
The area, which forms part of the upper Black River Morass, is reputed to have been used as a landing site for small aircraft decades ago when the ganja export trade flourished.
A police source told the Jamaica Observer that on Saturday, bamboo with lights attached were seen on either side of a road used as a makeshift airstrip.
“It is a straight road; no one, without knowing the area, couldn’t just land there. There was bamboo lining the two sides of the road and light on it, like a runway to guide the plane,” the source said while adding that a wheel believed to have detached from the aircraft was seen in bushes. It is suspected that the defect possibly led to difficulty in the plane taking off.
The source said preliminary investigations suggest “there was no crash” and that the plane was “deliberately landed”. It is believed that cargo was removed from the plane and it was possibly then set ablaze.
Efforts to get a comment from the leadership of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority in relation to the probe into the incident were unsuccessful up to mid-afternoon Saturday as calls and messages went unanswered.
Head of the St Elizabeth police, Superintendent Coleridge Minto, in a video posted on the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s social media platforms, said it took the police close to three hours to find the wreckage of what appeared to be a two-engine plane.
“Sometime after 7:00 pm Friday we were alerted to the information that a plane may have experienced some amount of difficulty and went down somewhere in the morass area of Braes River. An immediate search and rescue operation was launched. The various agencies were contacted to include the fire brigade and the military,” Minto said.
“The aircraft was fully burnt, and there is an active investigation ongoing. No person was found, no item except for the burnt remains of the plane,” added Minto.
He suggested that the police are examining the “history” of the area as part of the investigation.
“We are not sure as to whether or not it was a difficulty the pilot experienced or whether there was an attempt to land it in this area. There is certainly a history surrounding this particular area. There are a number of theories floating around, one of which is that the plane was attempting to land, so we will allow the experts and the various forensics persons to do their checks and investigations and then a more conclusive determination can be made,” said Minto.
In January 2006 police and soldiers destroyed an illegal airstrip at Braes River said to have been used to smuggle ganja out of the island. News reports at that time said Operation Kingfish operatives and Jamaica Defence Force Engineering Regiment personnel wired the approximately two-mile runway with explosives that made 12 large craters on the surface.
The latest incident involving the burnt-out aircraft follows the seizure of 13 pounds of cocaine in a major bust at a house operated as a drug base in the remote St Elizabeth community of Warminster, north of Junction.
The cocaine, worth an estimated $28 million, as well as 222 pounds of ganja valued at $2.2 million, more than $1 million in cash, and a car were confiscated by narcotics police at the house on Thursday night.
Police also said that a man ran from the house and escaped.