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Smuggling mystery, baffled sleuths, make headlines

MYSTERY PLANE PROBE - Police hunt occupants after crash-landing in smuggling hotspot

Published:Monday | February 1, 2021 | 12:47 PM
Nathaniel Stewart/Photographer Residents of Rocky Point, Clarendon, scavenge for souvenirs from the plane that crash-landed along the coastline on Saturday evening.
Nathaniel Stewart/Photographer A resident takes charge of evidence retrieved from the mystery plane. The aircraft appears to be deregistered.
Nathaniel Stewart/Photographer There have been contrasting unverified accounts of two or three briefcase-carrying men sighted in the Rocky Point area in the aftermath of the plane crash.

Scenes from the 1972 film ‘The Harder They Come’ rushed back to memory. Images of a plane landing on a dusty airstrip, only to take off again seconds later with smugglers loading and unloading on the run made the rounds in the heads of those old enough to remember. The real story, a plane, apparently being used to smuggle cocaine crashed, with its occupants nowhere to be found. Here’s how The Gleaner captured the event.


Mystery plane probe


Police hunt occupants after crash-landing in smuggling hot spot

A multipronged investigation has been launched into whether a deregistered plane bearing the Mexican flag that crash-landed in Rocky Point, Clarendon, on Saturday evening was on a smuggling mission.

High-level security officials have been tight-lipped on the probe so far amid mounting speculation because Rocky Point is one of several nodes along Jamaica’s southern coast known to be hot spots in the illegal drug trade.

Independent civil organisation, Global Initiative, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, also noted that Rocky Point was notorious for being a hub in the deadly guns-for-drugs trade.

While it is unusual for planes to land in Rocky Point, a senior law enforcement official theorised to The Gleaner on Sunday that it was likely that the pilot had been trying to land the plane at unofficial airstrips in the region.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang, who briefly spoke with The Gleaner on Sunday, said that he was still gathering information on the incident that has shocked some residents of the coastal community.

“At this time, I am still currently being briefed, and the police are investigating, so when I have gathered enough information, I will make a comment,” Chang, who is also the national security minister, said.

He was unable to say whether the Cabinet, which meets today, will take an interest in the matter, noting that the body had its agenda set.

Head of the police information arm, Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, said that the investigation was in its infancy and that they could not yet establish ownership of the plane, which has registration XB-JMR.

The JCF spokeswoman was unable to say from where the plane had departed before entering Jamaican airspace, a critical piece to the puzzle that could provide deep insight into the aircraft’s operations.

“At this stage, not much is known. We have investigators on the scene, and we are trying to gather as much information as we can,” Lindsay told The Gleaner on Sunday.


She said that a search team unsuccessfully combed nearby areas for the occupants. Contrasting accounts of two or three briefcase-carrying men, dressed in jackets, could not be independently verified.

The 12-seater plane is believed to have been modified to leave occupancy for the pilot and one passenger, The Gleaner understands.

Gleaner investigations show that the plane has been deregistered, raising further suspicion about its operation.

The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority Director General Nari Williams Singh, while having little information to share, confirmed that a ‘May Day’ call was received from the aircraft, signalling that the occupants were in distress.

The aviation authority will be seeking the help of international partners in gathering more information.

The south coast’s arc of infamy includes Rocky Point and Farquhar Beach, the latter the site of a deadly shooting of a soldier during an anti-narcotics operation last September.

Two Nicaraguans and other residents were arrested in a November 2020 drug bust in Rocky Point, Senior Superintendent Glenford Miller, head of the Clarendon police, told The Gleaner, evidence of a hot zone for smuggling.

Miller said that the Nicaraguans were arrested following the seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana. The two have since been charged in relation to the find and for illegal entry into the country. They are reportedly awaiting deportation.

The Clarendon commander said that drug trans-shipment remains a worrying trend in communities along the central parish’s coast.

Residents of Farquhar Beach in the Milk River area argued on Sunday that drug smuggling in Farquhar was a thing of the past.

“A from 1996 nuh drugs nuh find a Farquhar Beach,” said one resident, who claimed that the smuggling label had tarnished the seaside community.

But the police say that the beach port is a gateway for drugs.

“That port is definitely used to smuggle drugs, and this is one of the challenges that we face with our sea coast because it is a little difficult for us to police ... it is very difficult to manage,” Miller said, citing limited resources.

Miller’s lament captures the enormity of the smuggling crisis in Jamaica, with 145 informal ports. Jamaica has long swapped drugs for guns with Haitian boaters, with an estimated 200 illegal weapons infiltrating the country every month.

The Clarendon police chief said that local authorities had sought support from the marine police but that assistance “cannot be indefinite because the marine vessel will need to be out there on the sea to transport petrol,” he said.

Mayor of May Pen and councillor for the Rocky Point division, Winston Maragh, has renewed the call for a marine police post to be installed in the fishing village.

“The Government had a plan two years ago to construct a marine police post right there in that area,” Maragh told The Gleaner.

However, one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said he observed the craft flying low and alerted a friend that it was going to crash.

Not long after, his words proved prophetic.

“Everybody start move towards it ya now. Mi and mi friend, we did a run fi riches. It crash and we go fi supm. Wi nuh know wah inna it and wi waan know wah inna it,” he said of the sighting shortly after 6 p.m.

Others in the community said it was a chance to enjoy first hand what it was like being inside a plane.

Several residents were seen scavenging for souvenirs from the plane on Sunday, potentially compromising the police investigations. The police said they took charge of the aircraft on Sunday afternoon.

Commenting on the crash, president of the District Area Committee, Arthur Coleman, said that while they have observed planes in the area, it was the first time in recent memory that the community had witnessed a crash.

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