Explosive claims in cocaine plane crash saga
PAPUA New Guinea's police minister has made detailed new allegations about the country's biggest ever drug bust when a plane laden with cocaine crashed after taking off in Far North Queensland.
Police on both sides of the Coral Sea are investigating after a Cessna 402C twin-engine aircraft crashed under suspicious circumstances just outside Port Moresby on July 26.
Now PNG Police Minister Bryan Kramer has taken to social media to make claims about an alleged drug bust which involved more than 600kg of cocaine.
He said the public announcement was in response "to all the false and misleading information" that had been circulated concerning PNG's largest drug bust.
Mr Kramer said Australian Federal Police had been carrying out a covert two-year surveillance operation of an organised criminal syndicate prior to the bust.
The operation was called "Weathers".
"In the course of their operation they obtained information of the syndicate's plan to smuggle drugs from South America to Australia using PNG as a transit point," Mr Kramer said.
The syndicate allegedly used a small private yacht to bring a large shipment of drugs into PNG from Peru in March this year.
"Two banana boats were used to transport the 28 bags of cocaine to a residence concealed inside large blue storage drums," the report continued.
Mr Kramer said the AFP made a formal request to the PNG Commissioner for Police to support Operation Weathers in May 2020 after receiving intelligence that the syndicate planned to land a light aircraft on a remote airstrip in PNG.
The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) was advised to monitor all airstrips in the country's southern region.
Mr Kramer said it would be alleged members of the syndicate and the pilot travelled to Mareeba on July 19.
The plane was allegedly stocked with 14 fuel containers of aviation gasoline, three 64-inch inch flat screen TVs and a game console before taking off from Mareeba Airport on July 26.
"In an effort to avoid detection the pilot flew the plane at 2700 feet - below radar detection for 51 minutes," Mr Kramer said.
The minister said police would allege the plane's transponder was disabled and the aircraft was flown to PNG without appropriate clearance.
"However, what the pilot was not aware of was that he and the plane were under surveillance by AFP," he said.
"Officers were also on the ground monitoring his movements prior to take off."
The plane landed at about noon at an old airstrip near Lealea village about 20km out of Port Moresby.
The airstrip had been cleared by heavy machinery a month earlier.
Mr Kramer said the plane's left wing sustained minor damage after coming into contact with the tree line on its approach to land.
He said three vehicles were waiting at the airstrip to unload the plane and transport cocaine onto it.
Police would allege the drivers were given the TV screens and the game console, and two received $25,000 in cash.
"Twenty-eight bags containing 611kg of cocaine were then loaded onto the plane," Mr Kramer said.
The plane attempted to take off about 1pm but was unable to get enough lift, forcing the pilot to abort the effort.
It crashed at the end of the runway, causing the left engine to catch fire.
The pilot managed to escape without injury but the crash set off the plane's distress signal.
"The three vehicles rushed to the crash site where they reloaded the cocaine back into the vehicles and picked up the pilot," Mr Kramer alleged.
Police would allege they drove along a dirt road where they stopped to hide the cocaine in a thick mangrove area around 4km from the crash site.
"After stashing the drugs they drove to the city and dropped the pilot at (a hotel) in Waigani," the minister claimed.
The AFP contacted PNG police about 2.30pm, notifying them that a distress signal had been received from the aircraft and providing co-ordinates.
A team from PNG Police Intelligence, Organised Crime, Transnational Crime and Water Police was assembled and set off for the area at 3.15pm.
"On their way into the grassland they spotted the plane in the distance," Mr Kramer said.
"When they arrived at the crash site they noted the plane was abandoned and empty.
"The left engine was still on fire.
"Concerned it would explode a senior member of water police used the planes' fire extinguisher to put out the flames - this explains the white power substance on the ground and cabin of the plane."
Video footage taken at the scene was relayed back to AFP and officers were ordered to preserve the crash scene overnight.
"The next morning officers with AFP and RPNGC chartered two Hevilift passenger helicopters - the first to carry out surveillance of the crash site from the air and the second chopper be deployed to Kupiano to search the home of (a man) who was a known accomplice," Mr Kramer wrote.
"The first chopper landed at the crash site to document the scene and assess the state of the plane.
"Around 10am the same morning the pilot, David Cutmore handed himself into Australian High Commission.
"He was interviewed by consular staff before being handed over to (PNG police)."
Mr Kramer said he was revealing the details to reassure the public there had been no police cover-up.
It is understood Australian pilot David John Cutmore remains in custody in Port Moresby and has been charged with illegal entry, but no drug-related charges had been laid immediately after the crash.
Originally published as Explosive claims in cocaine plane crash saga