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Mexico: Authorities Seize Aircraft with 5½ Ton Cocaine Shipment from Venezuela

By W. K.

12.04.06 | The seizure last Monday, at Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, of a jetliner, carrying no passengers, but loaded with over five tons of cocaine packed in 128 identical black suitcases, has serious implications concerning the growth of narcotraffic in Venezuela and the country’s sad evolution into a narco-state. The fact that a cocaine shipment of this size was successfully trans-shipped at Venezuela’s main international airport casts serious doubts as to whether the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration should proceed with its stated intention of raising Venezuela to Category 1 from its current Category 2.

The blue-tailed white aircraft with blue trim and golden borders along the window line, registered in the U.S. as N900SA, reportedly departed from Caracas’ Simón Bolívar International Airport (Maiquetía), only to turn around after approximately “1 ½ hours of flight.” After landing and apparently refueling, it resumed its flight toward Mexico, specifically to Toluca, near Mexico City. Later that evening it made an alleged “emergency” landing at Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, Mexico. The crew claimed they were having hydraulic trouble with the landing gear and parked the plane well away from the terminal area, convincing ground crews to keep people away from the aircraft because of the hazards presented by “leaking oil” and the possibility one of the tires might “explode.” The obliging ground crews tried to keep authorities away from the aircraft to no avail, and the military police, using trained dogs, detected the presence of drugs onboard. They arrested the co-pilot, Miguel Vicente Vázquez Guerra, identified as Venezuelan by some reports and Colombian by others. However, the pilot, who had left the aircraft to do an errand concerning flight plans, managed to evade authorities, reportedly by climbing over the airport perimeter fence.

Also present at the Ciudad del Carmen airport was an executive jet, of Mexican registry, apparently making a rendezvous. The crew members, Fernando Poot Pérez and Marco Antonio Pérez de García, both of Mexican nationality, and also in possession of drugs, were arrested.

The Mexican authorities were reportedly tipped off by U.S. authorities, and by Venezuelan authorities, who had no choice but to cooperate in this instance.

There are conflicting reports as to who owns the DC-9. Mexican authorities have identified its owner variously as “Aero Flight” and “Fly,” supposedly “U.S. companies.” The trouble is “Aero Flight” was a German charter airline that went out of business in November 2005. In fact, there are at least half a dozen airlines with the word “Flight” in their name and almost 20 with the word “Fly.” The FAA website identifies the current owner of N900SA as being “Royal Sons, Inc.” of Clearwater, Florida. Elsewhere the owner is listed as HW Aviation of Dunedin, Florida. HW Aviation, reportedly went into bankruptcy in February 2004.

This aircraft was built in 1966 for the now defunct TWA. It has had several owners since then and reportedly was used by Kenny Rogers, the Howard Dean 2004 presidential campaign, and the Seattle Seahawks team. There are also reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) used it in 2004. Photographs of this aircraft taken at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California in 2004 show it as having an official-looking seal by the main door which reads “SKYWAY AIRCRAFT. PROTECTION OF AMERICA’S SKIES” with the image of a federal eagle in the center. Not quite identical to the seal of Homeland Security seal, which is also used by the TSA, but almost. There is an ominous ambiguity about the seal in that photograph. One wonders if aircraft N900SA still displays that seal as it sits on the tarmac at Ciudad del Carmen.

By strange coincidence, this aircraft has a history of hydraulic trouble. In 2004 it sustained minor damage when it went off the runway and into the grassy area at the Tallahassee, Florida airport. “Hydraulic trouble” last Monday gave the pilot a good excuse to stay away from the prying eyes of onlookers near the main terminal at the Ciudad del Carmen airport.

The mystery remains as to why the DC-9 returned to Maiquetía almost two hours into its planned flight. It may be that, after having successfully cleared exit customs, the then-empty plane flew to an alternate airfield where the cocaine was loaded, then returned to Maiquetía, making it look like it had returned for mechanical reasons, so as to deceive the authorities into waiving a second customs inspection. Another explanation might have to do with the timing of their arrival and the need to synchronize their rendezvous with the Mexican executive jet that awaited them at Ciudad del Carmen. Maybe it was simply bad weather ahead or genuine mechanical problems. Regardless of the details and methodology, the bottom line remains: Who are the principals and how much complicity was there on the part of Venezuela’s officialdom?



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