Five men accused of operating a ‘black flight’ that could not be detected by radar to collect drugs in Papua New Guinea and bring them back to Australia have been arrested by police officers waiting for them at the airport.
Australian Federal Police officers were waiting for the plane when it landed at a remote airstrip in Monto, central Queensland, on Tuesday afternoon from Papua New Guinea.
Police allege the men had organized a ‘black flight’: a plane ride that records false flight plans, or none at all, and flies at a very low altitude to avoid aircraft monitoring systems and law enforcement.
The five men, two pilots and three men who provided ground support, are alleged to have orchestrated the plan to collect 52kg of methamphetamine from the Papua New Guinea town of Bulolo before taking it back to Queensland.
Police will allege that the two pilots, Bernard Hamilton-Alexander, 51, and his co-pilot, John Horvath, 52, took off from Wilton, a rural area south of Sydney, on Monday in a Beechcraft twin-engine light aircraft.
Australian Federal Police have arrested five men after they allegedly operated a ‘black flight’ to collect drugs from Papua New Guinea (pictured, police at the men’s alleged service station in Monto, Queensland)
Police allege the men collected five duffel bags containing 52 kg of methamphetamine, valued at around $15 million (the duffel bags pictured next to the men’s plane)
The plane landed in Monto to quickly refuel before taking off again to head to Bulolo, 250 kilometers from the country’s capital, Port Moresby.
Police said the plane landed in Bulolo at dawn on Tuesday before the two pilots allegedly collected five duffel bags filled with 52kg of methamphetamine.
“His (alleged) actions were monitored by members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Police from Lae in PNG,” AFP said.
The pilots allegedly hid the duffel bags on the plane before turning off the plane’s transponder to avoid radar detection on the way home.
The plane was seized by police shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when it stopped for a second refueling in Monto.
The pilots were arrested along with three men, Brian Pracey, Peter Payne and Nathan Bailey, who police say acted as ground crew.
All five were charged with importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine and face life in prison if convicted.
Only one of them has been granted bail.
It is understood that the crew had been living in Monto since February and allegedly brought more than 1,000 liters of aviation fuel to the runway.
The methamphetamine collected from the plane had an estimated street value of $15 million.
Police allege the pilot and co-pilot flew from a small airfield south of Sydney and met up with the three ground crew, who they claim have been based in Monto since February (one of the arrests pictured)
All five men were charged with importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine and only one was granted bail (pictured methamphetamine allegedly recovered from the plane)
One of the arrested men allegedly had 17 phone accounts in his name.
“The union also allegedly used encrypted phones and messaging systems to communicate with other members of the supply chain abroad,” AFP Eastern Command deputy commissioner Stephen Dametto said.
“Investigations continue into how this syndicate obtained the drugs and to identify others responsible for planning this importation.”
AFP and NSW police officers later seized electronics, firearm parts, drug paraphernalia and documents about aircraft parts and travel to Papua New Guinea from four homes and businesses in Wilton, Tahmoor, Fairy Meadow and Wallsend.
All seized items will undergo forensic examination.
Police allege this week’s black flight was not the first time a global criminal gang has attempted to smuggle drugs into Australia.
The AFP said suspected transnational members of organized crime tried to bring 550kg of cocaine into Australia from Papua New Guinea in 2020.
However, the plane crashed while trying to take off.
“The pilot of that company is serving an 18-year prison sentence in Papua New Guinea for the attempted importation,” AFP said.
“Other proceedings, both in PNG and Australia, related to that matter are ongoing.”