Canadian airline alleges video shows moment cocaine placed on plane

The Canadians were held several days in tiny jail cells and then barred from leaving the Dominican Republic for almost eight months

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The defence lawyers who delivered the video were not hopeful — the footage didn’t appear to show anything, they said.

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But after hours of intense viewing in their Dominican Republic safe house, members of a Pivot Airlines crew finally spotted it. The file contained barely perceptible evidence of bags being piled under the nose of their plane in the middle of the night before they were to fly to Canada.

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Deeper scrutiny revealed faint signs of a group of people walking down a taxiway toward the aircraft, then working with the bags for about half an hour. Separate video indicates the crew were in their hotel at the time.

The next day, Pivot’s mechanic discovered a black bag in the avionics bay, a maintenance area under the nose that’s accessed from outside the plane.

The airline reported the find to Canadian and Dominican authorities. Police found another seven bags and said they contained 210 kilograms of cocaine, then proceeded to arrest the crew that had reported the stash and their passengers.

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But it was four months later before the Canadians received airport security video from prosecutors, and some of it appeared to have been tampered with, removing the key section showing the contraband being loaded, says Rob DiVenanzo, the crew’s captain.

Luckily, whoever did the editing neglected to alter one camera’s video, says the Guelph, Ont., resident.

But it was a hard blow to see individuals with access to secure areas of the airport appear to stash the drugs, then for some of the videos to be manipulated, he said.

“Its pretty tough to watch, to think that people did this to us,” DiVenanzo said Friday. “It really is horrifying.”

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The Canadians were held several days in tiny jail cells, before being released on bail but barred from leaving the Dominican Republic for almost eight months.

Pivot provided a copy of the time-stamped video to the National Post, the only print news outlet to receive it.

The footage is not exactly cinema quality, showing the Pivot CRJ-100 jet at some distance from the camera, relatively dim light illuminating the Punta Cana airport.

The apparent hiding of the contraband occurs between about 3:15 a.m. and 4 a.m. the morning of April 5.

The first significant activity on the video is what turns out to be headlights of an airport pickup truck. Something crosses in front of the vehicle, briefly breaking the beams, notes DiVenanzo. Then the truck drives on, passing by the camera several seconds later.

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For the next few minutes, it’s possible to make out figures moving in front of blue and yellow lights that lead toward the plane, apparently having come from near where the truck stopped. The lights mark one of the airport’s taxiways, which pedestrians don’t normally traverse, says the pilot.

The first appearance of black objects in front of the nose comes at 3:27 a.m., and for the next half hour, dark figures can just be made out working under the nose.

The plane sat on the airport tarmac unattended after it arrived March 31, operated by a different crew which then returned to Canada, says Pivot.

Separate, time-stamped security videos released by the airline show the replacement crew — which flew from Toronto April 4 — arriving at their hotel at 5:40 p.m. and leaving for the airport the next morning at 11:16 a.m.

Pivot says police and prosecutors were in possession of the video since April. And it says lawyers tried repeatedly to have the evidence entered in court after it was discovered in August, only for hearings to be repeatedly adjourned when the court-appointed interpreter or prosecutor did not show up.

Prosecutors finally closed the case last month, saying in a Spanish-language statement that they were “acting responsibly, since the investigation had not obtained sufficient evidence to substantiate the accusation.”

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