Australia-Bound Plane Overloaded With Cocaine Crashes During Takeoff

A light plane headed from Papua New Guinea to Queensland, Australia was so overloaded with cocaine that it crashed as the pilot attempted to take off. The mishap helped police uncover a crime syndicate in Melbourne and the arrests of five men allegedly linked to the Italian mafia. The Cessna aircraft was packed worth over 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of cocaine, worth about $80 million (over $56.9 million in U.S. dollars), reports Australia's 9 News.

Police believe the plane took off from Mareeba in Far North Queensland to Papua New Guinea, flying at a low height to avoid being picked up by radar. "The AFP alleges greed played a significant part in the syndicate's activities and cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane's ability to take off," the Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

The pilot attempted to take off from a remote airstrip on July 26, reports CNN. In the past few days, five men were arrested in Queensland and Victoria, aged 31, 31, 33, 36 and 61. Police in Papua New Guinea did not find the cocaine until Friday, after searching the jungle near the runway. They were charged with several crimes, with one man accused of directing criminal syndicate activities and money laundering of over $1 million AUD. Other assets seized by police were worth a combined $3.5 million AUD.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Investigations Ian McCartney told 9 News the arrests came at the end of a two-year drug operation involving several other law enforcement agencies. "These arrests prove no matter how sophisticated or opportunistic organized crime's attempts are, or the methods they use, law enforcement is keeping pace and causing maximum damage to these criminal ventures," McCartney explained. He added that the case was an example of organized crime trying to get creative under coronavirus travel restrictions. "Australian law enforcement remains committed to working collectively to protect Australia, which is especially important now, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the community," he said.

This was one of the biggest drug busts in recent Australian history. In December 2016, police there also seized 1,102 pounds of cocaine from a criminal syndicate, several months after seizing over 1,336 pounds of cocaine from the same syndicate. The December bust was valued at $259 million AUD.