Monday, February 16, 2009

When an airline becomes a drug line?

I was surprised and taken aback to read, in January, that the entire crew of a South African Airways Airbus A340 had been arrested in England on drug-smuggling charges.

Some 50 kilos of cannabis was discovered on the flight arriving in from Johannesburg, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) confirmed in a statement.

Initial reports said four kilos of cocaine, with an estimated street value of £160,000, was also found in the baggage.

There was no reference to cocaine in the statement from HMRC.

All 15 members of the crew, including the pilot, were taken into custody after they were seized by officers from the UK Border Agency.

. . .

The crew have all been released on unconditional bail pending further enquiries.

They are due to report back to HMRC investigators at Heathrow Police Station on the March 23, 2009.

I've flown many thousands of miles - no, tens of thousands - on SAA. In those days, it was regarded as a very fine airline, one of the world's best. I was shocked to read of this incident, but presumed it was one-of-a-kind.

I should have known better. According to the Daily Mail:

The entire crew of a South African Airways flight has been arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling - for the second time in a month.

Fifteen members of the flight crew, including the pilot, were detained yesterday at Heathrow airport after customs officers found five kilos of cocaine in a bag.

They were being held by officers after the class A drug, with an estimated street value of £250,000, was discovered as the crew tried to clear customs following a 12-hour flight from Johannesburg.

. . .

It is less than a month since the entire crew of another South African Airways flight from Johannesburg to Heathrow was arrested.

. . .

Last night Mr Gaiger said: 'It is quite amazing that it appears to have happened again. It is still very early days in our investigation.

'I expect that the crew will be questioned further tonight and tomorrow before we will know how things will develop.'

I knew that South Africa has become a transshipment point for the international drug trade . . . but when the national air carrier's flight crews become couriers for contraband, it speaks volumes for the level of crime and corruption now bedeviling what was once a truly wonderful country.

I guess we've gone from the 'mile high club' to the 'mule high club' . . .




Unknown said...

Maybe it just serves as the emergency flight control? You know, flying high ....

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how they were able to pin it on the crew. If all of them are involved, do you know how many ground crew also must be involved?