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Leslie: Expect the Unexpected

When a malfunctioning toilet becomes a job for customs


October 1, 2007
By Steve Leslie

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After a nine-hour flight from Curaçao to Amsterdam, we had finished
securing B767 TFATY and were preparing to leave the aircraft. As I
stepped out of the flight deck, I noticed a number of Dutch customs
officers looking very much like Israeli commandos standing by the 1L
entry door. They were waiting for the last passengers to deplane so
that they could initiate a routine search of the aircraft. Their
mascot, a drug-sniffing dog, seemed particularly eager to begin his
duties and find a ‘treat’. A few minutes after the last passenger had
gone the dog skillfully located a treat in the back of an economy-class
seat pocket. It turned out to be one kilo of unprocessed cocaine, sewn
inside the lining of a rather large bra. A few days later when we
returned to Curaçao, the forward lavatory had to be dismantled because
the flush mechanism was malfunctioning. Once more, the local customs
officials had to be summoned because our maintenance engineers had
discovered approximately 20 ‘sausages’ of cocaine jammed down the
toilet. In early March, Air Atlanta had transferred me and four
colleagues to Curaçao to commence a three-month contract with Dutch
Caribbean Airlines. Curaçao is located just off the north coast of
South America, adjacent to Venezuela. Considering my last contract with
Southern Winds, this contract would prove to be very enlightening as to
the lengths some surreptitious groups will go to transport illicit
drugs across borders.

For
many years, the Caribbean region has served as a conduit for 30% of the
cocaine destined for the US and Europe. By and large, cocaine has been
transported by small aircraft that depart South America and fly to
remote ocean areas within the Caribbean. The aircraft conduct airdrops
to waiting high-speed boats that retrieve the drugs and move them
ashore. At one time, authorities believed that traffickers shipped 90%
of unprocessed cocaine directly to and from Colombia via small civilian
aircraft. When possible, local airlines have been used as the timeliest
and most cost-effective means of shipping cocaine to and from Latin
America. Since the early 1990s, the US has been supporting anti-drug
operations in Latin America. Within the last few years, the US
government has negotiated long-term agreements for the use of
facilities in the Netherlands Antilles, Ecuador and El Salvador. These
locations provide the military with an effective means of conducting
surveillance and interdiction of air shipment of cocaine. In Curaçao,
the US Air Force and the US Air National Guard operate daily
surveillance flights and coastal patrols in conjunction with the Royal
Netherlands Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Marines. During our
down time in Curaçao, it was routine to see the highly modified P3
Orions and naval frigates manoeuvring up and down the coastline. On one
occasion, right in front of our beachfront hotel, I witnessed a Dutch
Marine frigate intercept and board a fishing boat steaming toward
Venezuela, while an Orion monitored the action from overhead. Shortly
thereafter, the frigate escorted the fishing vessel back to harbour.

Even
so, drug traffickers have an instinctive ability to exploit the
inadequate security and law enforcement that exist within this region.
They have resorted to using people more and more as an alternative
means of transporting cocaine. The traffickers pay individuals, or
‘drug mules’, to transport their product to a particular destination.
Prior to their assigned flight, the ‘mules’ swallow the cocaine in
Teflon-coated ‘sausages’ about the size of your index finger. At some
point during a nine- to ten-hour flight, nature takes its course and
the material has to come out the other end. If they have time, the
‘mules’ wash the contraband and re-swallow it, hoping not to be nabbed
by customs. In the case of our malfunctioning lavatory, one of the
‘mules’ must have lost his nerve or decided he did not have enough time
to re-swallow the goods. Consequently, rather than get caught, he
flushed the lot down the toilet. I was told later that each of those
sausages of cocaine is worth about $5,000-$6,000. The 20 that were
flushed were worth between $100,000 and $120,000.

Since the
start of this contract, there have been numerous cocaine-e related
problems. In one incident, cocaine was discovered in the water
drainpipes beneath the lavatory sinks. Customs has also discovered coke
in the aircraft ceilings and above the main entrance doors.
Unfortunately, the authorities are powerless to eliminate this problem.
At the most, all they can do is slow it down. But it all makes for some
very interesting flying!

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