On Friday’s news, we broke the story of a small plane, an Aero Commander 500 which had left Belize airspace without filing a flight plan, or making the required checks with customs and immigration – which is both illegal and suspicious. As we reported at the time, it left Belize from the Spanish Lookout airstrip on the afternoon of February 21st., without filing a flight plan – which would make it impossible to land anywhere legally. What made it even more suspicious is that the plane had been outfitted with extended range fuel tanks – enabling it to fly long distances.
And sure enough, illegality was afoot. Reports from newspapers in Venezuela say that the day after it left Belize, the plane made an illegal, early morning landing at an unauthorized airstrip in the Northwestern region of that country known as Acarigua. The onboard GPS showed its final destination as the Apura state, which borders with Colombia. Those onboard were Canadian David William Sawatzky and Colombian Jorge Armando Bustamante. They have been charged with illicit trafficking of narcotics and conspiracy to traffic. They were also charged with interference in the operation safety of civil aviation, diversion from and fraudulent acquisition of route, illegal piloting of aircraft and transportation of dangerous goods. They have been remanded to Los Llanos Prison.
The plane was detected by the Venezuelan military who saw an aircraft flying over at 2:40 in the morning of Friday February 22nd – almost exactly 12 hours after it left Belize. Now, the plane did not have a drug cargo on board, but Venezuelan newspapers report that their Criminal Investigations Branch screened the plane for drugs and found a substance that tested positive for cocaine.
Inside the plane, authorities found four cans of gasoline, a hand pump, a hose and an additional tank for fuel. Newspaper reports quote the pilot as saying that the stop was an emergency landing since they needed to refuel. Venezuelan authorities confirmed what we first reported, that the fuel system had been modified with a tank that could hold 148 gallons to extend flying range.
And while it is now a case for Venezuelan authorities – what happened in Belize that made it possible for the flight to leave without all the legally required checks? Well, first off, the plane left from an authorized private airstrip in Spanish lookout. That is one of about 20 licensed private airstrips in Belize – and it was first licensed in 2005. The Belize Civil Aviation Department was aware of the plane’s presence in Belize – and said they found it missing when they did regular surveillance at the airstrip on February 25th.
The aircraft is US registered and a search of its call letters shows the last owner of record as Max Hetherington from Corpus Christi, Texas who is known in Belize as a retiree. Reports are that he had been trying to sell the plane for some time.
David William Sawatzky is also well known in Belize as a Canadian Mennonite from Mango Creek where he is known to fly crop dusters and owns heavy equipment for farming. He is also a farmer and fresh fruit vendor.
Civil Aviation says it is now a matter for police – and at this time no sanctions have been taken against the owners of the private airstrip which we are told is the Spanish Lookout community.
Whenever an aircraft leaves Belizean air space it is required to file a flight plane with civil aviation and make checks with customs, immigration and BAHA at the PGIA.
Belize is tonight making international headlines but it’s the kind that gives the country a black eye. International reports suggest that 51 year old Canadian citizen William David Sawatzky and 31 year old Colombian National Jorge Bustamante were charged with crimes of smuggling of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in the mode of transport and conspiracy, incurring interference in the safety of civil aviation, and fraudulently obtaining diversion route, and the illegal driving of dangerous goods and transport. The men were charged after they allegedly transported drugs in an aircraft that landed on February 22nd at the General Oswaldo Guevara Mujica Airport, located in Acarigua, Portugal. So what does this have to do with Belize? Well, according to the investigation, on the morning of February 21st 2013 officials of the National Guard visualized an aircraft flying over the airspace of Acarigua and as they moved to the airport, they watched as the plane landed. Military troops found on board the aircraft the two foreigners, who said they took off from a private airport in Belize. Later, officers of the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations performed drug screening expertise in the aircraft, which was positive to cocaine. Immediately the two men were arrested. It is worth noting that within the aircraft four cans of gasoline, a hand pump, a hose and an additional tank for fuel was found. Here in Belize it was reported that the Aero Commander 500 reportedly left Belizean airspace from a licensed airfield in Western Belize on the afternoon of February 21st without a flight plan.
Two men who allegedly flew a plane from Belize carrying cocaine appeared at an initial court hearing in Portuguesa State, Venezuela. 51 year-old Canadian William David Sawatzky and 31 year old Colombian Jorge Armando Bustamante ware detained when the plane landed on February 22nd at General Oswaldo Guevara Mujica Airport, located in Acarigua, Portuguesa State.
Informed sources claim that the man listed as Canadian, William Sawatzky, is actually a Mennonite from Blue Creek, Belize.
Prosecutor Zoila Fonseca said the men were charged with smuggling narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. They were also charged with incurring interference in the safety of civil aviation, and fraudulently obtaining a diversion route for an aircraft and illegal transportation of dangerous materials.
Authorities in Belize said the aircraft left Belizean airspace from a licensed airfield in Western Belize on the afternoon of February 21st without a flight plan. The absence of a flight plan makes it impossible to land at any legal airport in the world.It also suggests that illicit cargo could have been involved.
Normally, if an aircraft intends to leave Belizean airspace, it would have to first fly to the Phillip Goldson International Airport, check with immigration, customs and police and file a flight plan with civil aviation, and then it could leave the country.
The National Guard in Venezuela detected the plane flying over the airspace of Acarigua. The plane had not notified any authorities of it’s flight plan, and so National Guard officers went to Acariqua Airport to watch it land.
Military Troups also came to the airport and detained the two men, who said they took off from a private airport in Belize. The pilot said he had made an emergency landing in order to refuel. Officers of the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Deoartment searched the aircraft, a red Aero Commander 500 with registration N345MP. Inside they found cocaine, four 30 gallon cans of gasoline, a hand pump, a hose and an additional tank for fuel.
It is believed that the pair were intending to reach the Columbian border where the cocaine would be processed. The men remain detained in the prison of Los Llanos, located in Guanare.