LONDON – A team of five Pivot Airlines flight crew has landed back safely on home soil after being detained in the Dominican Republic since April 2022.
The crew found drugs aboard their charter aircraft prior to take off, which also included seven Canadian passengers headed to Toronto on board.
Consisting of a pilot, co-pilot, two flight attendants and a part-time mechanic, the team were due to take off from Punta Cana Airport in the Dominican Republic on April 5th 2022.
However, before the jet left the tarmac, the crew raised the alarm to authorities, having found a duffle bag of cocaine stuffed inside the avionic bay of the aircraft.
In total, the police ended up finding eight bags across the aircraft, and there was found to be over 200 kilograms of cocaine on the jet. A haul of this size is said to be worth millions of dollars.
Pilot Rob Di Venanzo said: “There is no doubt in my mind that had we got airborne or attempted to get airborne, we would have been in trouble. They are not aviation professionals who did this. They’re jamming bags up there with control cables and threats of fire. It would have been a literal disaster.”
Upon finding the contraband, the crew said they thought they would be celebrated as heroes as they raised the alarm to the Dominican authorities and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). But what ensued they could not have anticipated.
“We thought we were heroes, what we found and what we reported. We thought we did an amazing thing by not allowing these things to come back to Canada.” said Di Venanzo
The crew of five were imprisoned for nine days before being released on bail and virtual house arrest. They had to hand in their passports in to Dominican authorities, and were placed on a no-fly list, whilst also living in the shadows of fear having disrupted an extremely lucrative shipment of drugs.
The crew had moved to five different safe houses and were placed under 24-hour armed protection for their safety. Whilst in prison Captain Di Venanzo said: “In prison, a dead body was placed outside our cell and we were told we would be next.”
“We are living a nightmare. We’ve been threatened with death by narco criminals, extorted by inmates, and have lived in inhumane and humiliating conditions.”
Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmonson released a statement upon the crew’s arrival back in Canada: “While we are relieved for the crew’s long overdue return, we know that this incident has taken a heavy toll on their lives, and the lives of their families. For that reason, we are asking media and the public to respect their privacy at this time.”
Airline Unions ALPA and CUPE have been instrumental in supporting a campaign alongside the Canadian Government to get the crew released from their wrongful detention.
Edmonson thanked those that helped enable to get them back home by saying: “The crew has demonstrated incredible courage and resilience throughout the harrowing ordeal which saw them wrongly detained in the Dominican Republic for nearly eight months.”
“Their steadfast commitment to public safety and the rule of law is a testament to the professionalism of all Canadian air crew.”
An announcement came early in November that the crew would be able to leave the Caribbean Island. The Dominican Republic’s District Attorney said that there was not enough evidence to proceed. Dominican law states that they can hold suspects for up to 12 months without any charges being brought.
Pivot Airlines is a small Canadian charter airline that runs a fleet of three regional jets (2 Bombardier CRJ’s and a De Havilland DH8A), and is based out of Ontario’s Region of Waterloo International Airport.