Belize’s multi-million-dollar radar useless in detecting drug planes
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 25, 2018– The transshipment of drugs through Belize has entered a new phase of sophistication after a twin engine jet plane landed on the San Estevan / Progresso Village Road, located about 3 miles out of San Estevan village, Orange Walk District, early yesterday morning, Tuesday.
The Hawker Siddeley 225 jet (wing span: 14.32m (47 ft 0in), length: 14.42m (47 ft 5in) (It has also been classified by some experts as a British Aerospace 125 — which is a twin-jet business class aircraft.) has presented Belizean law enforcement officials with a major challenge: how to move the mid-sized jet from the village road, where it is now under the guard of Belize security forces. Although it is most likely still airworthy, reportedly, there are no pilots in Belize who could fly it from its present location.
The passenger seating for the jet has been removed, which suggests that the space was used for loading cargo—in this case, drugs, most likely cocaine that is bound for the United States’ illegal drug market.
A jet plane is not a quiet aircraft; its landing is noisy because of its propulsion engines. Yet this plane not only landed, but its cargo was offloaded, before it disappeared without a trace.
An attempt was obviously made to set it on fire, but it appears that whoever thought about setting it ablaze had a change of mind, for the possible reason that setting fire to such a large aircraft would bring authorities to the area more quickly.
The Orange Walk Police formation, in whose jurisdiction the plane landed, has not issued any report to the media concerning the aircraft, and the officer in charge did not return our phone calls, so the country has been left in the dark, as far as this particular drug plane is concerned.
Did the plane land here in an attempt to refuel? Did it drop off its cargo here? Were any traces of illicit drugs found on the plane? Who was involved in facilitating its landing? How long after the plane had landed did the police find out about it? What actions did they take? All these questions need answering.
Belize Civil Aviation has the expertise to trace the origin of the aircraft, but everything has been left in the hands of the police, because the plane was apparently involved in illegal activities and its landing here was an illegal landing, making it a police matter.
This particular jet was manufactured in the United States, in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1983, and last year, 2017, it was certified.
Belizean authorities therefore have to determine if the aircraft was stolen and brought here, and what are the legal rights of the owner to reclaim it from the Belize government, which technically now owns it.
According to a report on 7News, police had intelligence that the plane would land, and they had deployed a number of officers in the Orange Walk area in an attempt to intercept it. It’s been reported, however, that it took a couple hours for them to find the site on which the landing took place.
7News also reported that engineers were brought in to assess the airworthiness of the jet, and to figure out a way to remove it from the village road.
According to some reports, residents of nearby communities in Orange Walk had indicated that, prior to the landing of the plane, they had heard sounds of a low-flying aircraft. There have also been reports that a few hours before residents heard these sounds, persons who use the road on which the landing took place had observed strange markers on the ground.
Since last November, a total of 7 planes have landed in Belize, but no one has been detained and none of the cargo from the planes has been found.
Our research indicated that jets of this type, with a similar date of manufacture, are valued in the region of US$500,000. Government will have to decide what to do with the jet, because Belize lacks the expertise to make use of it.
Late this evening, the Ministry of National Security issued a press release entitled, “Statement on recent spate of illegal airplane landings.”
The release explains that Belize relies on regional partners, including the United States, Mexico and Central American neighbors, to inform “of any airplane tracking toward Belize and the region.”
The release said that “Despite these efforts, there has been a spate of illegal airplane landings in the country as the aircraft manage to avoid detection from the available regional radars.”
The release explains that by the time the illegally flown airplanes enter Belize’s airspace, the information changes.
The release added, “These aircraft actively avoid radar detection; therefore, Belizean authorities must rely principally on actual sightings and the most recent intelligence received locally, or from our regional partners, to try to anticipate the landing areas for the planes.”
“The Ministry of National Security, in conjunction with regional partners, continues to seek ways to improve detection capabilities to prevent the illegal landings. In the meantime, the Ministry encourages the public to immediately report suspicious aircraft sightings to law enforcement agencies (Police, Belize Defence Force, Belize Coast Guard); doing so can aid in a timelier response by the authorities,” the release ends saying.
It is noteworthy that the Ministry of National Security release said nothing about the most recent plane, the jet, which landed in Orange Walk.
It appears that as long as Belize continues to rely on a radar system which requires that airplane pilots turn on their transponders, we will never be able to detect, by radar, illegal flights of drug planes.
At the inauguration of the new Belize Civil Aviation building last December, air traffic control officer Marsha Hinkson explained how the new, multi-million dollar radar works.
“The aircraft need to be equipped with what we call a transponder. It is a secondary surveillance radar; therefore, it has to have that equipment on board. Apart from that, they have to turn on the equipment. If they do not turn on the equipment, then they would not be able to be detected by the radar,” she said.