A small twin-engine airplane seemingly dropped out of the sky and onto the runway at Ohio University's Gordon K. Bush Airport last Wednesday containing what police said was about 300 pounds of cocaine. The two men in the plane – both from Quebec, Canada – have been taken into custody by federal Homeland Security.
The international flight (a Piper Navajo PA-31), flying from the Bahamas, landed at the OU airport without proper authorization, officials have said.
Despite the unexpected nature of the plane’s arrival, the Montreal Gazette reported Friday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) had first detected the plane Wednesday about 18 miles north of an airport in the Bahamas and tracked it after that. The plane had a flight plan to land in Windsor, Ontario, the Gazette reported.
Sylvain Desjardins, 57, and David Ayotte, 46, both from Mirabel, a suburb of Montreal, appeared in federal court in Columbus Thursday on charges of possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, according to a release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The plane is owned by Desjardins and is registered in Canada.
"While in flight, the Canada-bound aircraft diverted its flight path and landed unauthorized at... Ohio University Airport," the ICE release reads. "The Athens County Sheriff’s Department along with the Ohio University Police Department assisted with the aircraft and two occupants while a CBP Great Lakes King Air aircraft working a nearby operation diverted its mission into KUNI (the call letters of the OU Airport)."
An Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson said the street value of the cocaine was around $5 million.
Homeland Security's investigations unit is working the case jointly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the OU Police Department and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office. Canadian authorities were contacted, according to ICE, and are assisting in the probe through the HSI Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Detroit, which is made up of officers from various Canadian police agencies.
To recap, CBP requested of local law enforcement Wednesday that the occupants of the plane be detained until "federal agents could respond," according to a statement from the OUPD sent late Wednesday afternoon. That happened after the Department of Homeland Security alerted university police that the plane intended to land at the OU airport in Albany without authorization mid-Wednesday afternoon.
"At about 2:30 p.m. today, the Ohio University Police Department was notified by the Department of Homeland Security that an international aircraft was landing at the Ohio University airport without proper authorization," the statement from Wednesday reads. "Once on the ground, the pilot of the aircraft advised he was traveling through U.S. airspace when a mechanical problem forced him to land unexpectedly."
ICE Spokesperson Khaalid Walls confirmed Friday that the plane had to land at the OU Airport because of “mechanical troubles,” although he didn’t go into specifics. Photos of the inside of the plane suggested that the bricks of cocaine were hidden in the back end of the plane.
The Montreal Gazette reported that the two suspects, Desjardins and Ayotte, have prior convictions for drug offenses in Canada, with Desjardins having multiple past convictions and prison time.