|(AP) SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) - Authorities have detained 18 military officials and two U.S. pilots after stopping a cocaine-laden airplane from taking off, officials said Friday.|
The small plane, a Short 360, was carrying 145 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) bricks of cocaine and was bound for Puerto Rico late Thursday, said Rolando Rosado Mateo, president of the National Drug Control Agency.
The officials detained include members of the drug control agency and airport security, along with a captain, three lieutenants and two lieutenant colonels.
He said agents also found $70,000 in cash inside a car that belongs to one official.
Rosado identified the pilots as Kevin Kuranz and Christopher Smith(in the picture).
The plane's owner, Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Air Cargo Carriers LLC, issued a statement saying it was cooperating with U.S. and Dominican authorities.
"The company denies any knowledge in the matter and expects that its pilot and copilot, who have been detained for questioning, will be released," it said in a statement.
The Dominican Republic is a major transit point for drugs bound for the United States.
A Tennessee co-pilot is being detained in the Dominican Republic after authorities found 300 pounds of cocaine in the plane he and his co-pilot were flying. Christopher Schmidt grew up in Germantown, TN. His parents currently live in Maryville. Friends tell us Chris was living in Knoxville until about a year ago and he now lives in the Dominican Republic. He works for Air Cargo Carriers, a Milwaukee based company. He was flying a new route from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic when agents from the Dominican Republic's government raided the plane and discovered the cocaine.
chmidt and his pilot, Kevin Kuranz of Wisconsin, say they did not know the drugs were on board. 18 members of the Dominican Republic DEA have been questioned in the case.
Bill Broydrick, spokesman for Air Cargo, told 10News that the company is sure the pilots are innocent, and is working through diplomatic means to free them.
Broydrick said the plane was in a brief layover in the Dominican Republic. He believes the cocaine was placed on board by government officials as part of a sting operation against its own people, hence the arrests of the 18 DEA agents.
In a statement, Air Cargo Carriers says: Air Cargo Carriers, LLC is cooperating fully with the United States and Dominican authorities in the investigation of the narcotics found on a company operated cargo aircraft. The company denies any knowledge in the matter and expects that its pilot and copilot, who have been detained for questioning, will be released.
The spokesman said he had talked with the pilots and they are safe.
10News will have more on this story on Thursday's 10News at 5, and at WBIR.com.
2 US pilots freed on bail in Dominican Republic
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Two U.S. cargo pilots whose supporters say they were inadvertently caught up in an apparent drug smuggling operation were freed from a Dominican jail Monday pending further investigation.
Kevin Kuranz, 31, of Sheboygan, Wis., and Christopher Schmidt, 28, of Maryville, Tenn., were visibly relieved by a three-judge panel's decision to grant them each $12,160 bail on the condition that they promptly return to the Caribbean country if authorities require their presence. No future hearings were immediately scheduled.
"I feel liberated," Schmidt said after the hearing, adding that he planned to return to Tennessee immediately to celebrate Christmas. His parents flew to the Dominican Republic to attend the hearing........... read full story
Kuranz and Schmidt were temporarily based in Puerto Rico, flying short cargo hops between the U.S. island and the Dominican Republic. After landing in the Dominican Republic, they left their plane for several hours while ground crews loaded the cargo. Authorities found the drugs while the pilots were away from the aircraft, according to their employer, Air Cargo Carriers.
On Monday, a frustrated James Germek, chief of the Milwaukee-based company, said: "We're not approving more contract services in the Dominican Republic, never."
Air Cargo Carriers appealed to the Dominican ambassador in Washington as well as authorities in the Dominican Republic to release the two men, at least on bail.
Dominican Watchdog Note:
The drugs was stuffed into the airplane's fuselage* by local drug inforcement agency / official military personal.....
Like James Germek, chief of the Milwaukee-based company, said: "We're not approving more contract services in the Dominican Republic, never."
The Dominican Republic is desperate to boost export as they have only USD 4 Billion in foreign export, however with stories like this no wonder aircargo companies are not interested in transporting products from the DR. Maybe even producers are scared as they never know if they are being misused by drug lords and corrupt officials.
* The fuselage (from the French fuselé "spindle-shaped") is an aircraft's main body section that holds crew and passengers or cargo