Authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) continued to track those involved in the country’s largest ever illegal drug haul on Monday, after a plane carrying roughly 500 kg of cocaine crashed into the jungle.
The Cessna model light aircraft had flown covertly from Australia into PNG and was set to make the return trip last Sunday, when the half-ton payload potentially proved too heavy and the aircraft went down shortly after takeoff.
Two days later, the pilot of the aircraft turned himself in at the Australian Consulate in PNG and was charged with illegally entering the country.
Over the weekend, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers said that five other men had been arrested in the states of Queensland and Victoria, with alleged links to Italian organized crime.
All five of the men were charged with crimes related to transporting illegal drugs as well as other crimes and face life in prison if found guilty.
The criminal syndicate had been the focus of a roughly two years, multi-agency investigation which has been hailed as a success.
Police estimate the value of the haul to be around 80 million Australian dollars (57 million U.S. dollars), making it the largest seizure of illegal narcotics ever in PNG.
The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) suspects that the pilot was assisted in collecting the drugs by a group of locals, who also came to his rescue after the crash.
Initially the drugs were removed from the crash site, however they were recovered late on Friday by the RPNGC in the form of 28 bags believed to contain over 500 kg of cocaine.
“We believe the PNG members of this criminal group assisted the pilot and retrieved the drugs from the plane,” RPNGC Commissioner David Manning said.
Police said that they were in possession of information related to the group including descriptions, unique features and tattoos.
“Those persons are encouraged to come forward to police, as we will find them.”