Five men have been arrested, three of them on the Tablelands after a light plane that was allegedly flying drugs from PNG crashed not long after taking off.
The Cessna 420C crashed after taking off from an airstrip about 30km north of Port Moresby, on July 26. It’s believed that the flight originated from the Mareeba aerodrome before arriving in PNG on Sunday afternoon.
Since the crash, the AFP has charged five Members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate, with alleged links to Italian organised crime, for conspiring to import over 500 kilograms of cocaine from PNG into Australia.
Allegedly the group travelled from Melbourne and Sydney to Atherton between 19 and 25 July, with the aim of carrying out the importation and collection of cocaine from PNG, estimated to be valued at more than $80 million – the equivalent of about 500,000 street deals.
The group then allegedly flew the light aircraft to PNG on the morning of July 26, where a member of the group (a pilot) attempted to collect the illicit cargo.
The AFP alleges the aircraft flew at about 3000 feet from Mareeba to PNG, in an effort to avoid radar detection.
On July 26, between 1pm and 2.30pm, the aircraft crashed while attempting to take-off from a remote airstrip at Papa Lea Lea, north of Port Moresby. The AFP alleges greed played a significant part in the crash as the weight of the cocaine impacted the planes ability to take off.
On July 28, the pilot presented himself to the Australian Consulate in PNG. He has been arrested and charged with a PNG Immigration offence.
The investigation into the location of the cocaine continued in PNG, with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) being assisted by the AFP.
Late on Friday, July 31, the RPNGC located a number of items, including 28 bags believed to contain 500 plus kilograms of cocaine.
A 31-year-old Maribyrnong (Victoria) man was arrested in Atherton on July 26 and faced the Cairns Magistrates Court on July 27.
A 36-year-old Liverpool (NSW) man was also arrested in Atherton on July 26 faced the Cairns Magistrates Court July 31.
A 31-year-old Hoppers Crossing (Victoria) man was also arrested in Atherton and is yet to face court.
Two Melbourne men have also been arrested in Victoria. The men will reappear again on August 10 to face an extradition hearing to Queensland.
The maximum penalty for all the above charges if convicted is life imprisonment.