A light aircraft overloaded with cocaine crashed on take-off on its way to Australia, police said exposing a Melbourne-based crime syndicate and leading to the arrest of five men with alleged links to the Italian mafia. This was reported by CNN.
The Cessna aircraft, which was stuffed with more than 500 kilograms of cocaine, went down while attempting to leave a remote airstrip in Papua New Guinea.
Australian Federal Police said in a statement that "greed played a significant part in the syndicate's activities" and added they "cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane's ability to take off."
Five suspects were arrested in Queensland and Victoria in recent days, and have been charged with conspiring to import over 500 kilograms of cocaine and a number of related offenses. They each face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. The pilot was also arrested two days later, after surrendering himself to police.
Authorities said the plane had flown to Papua New Guinea from the small town of Mareeba in Far North Queensland, flying at about 3,000 feet to avoid detection by radar.
The cocaine stash was eventually found on Friday after a search of the area. Its total value was estimated to be around 57 million USD, the equivalent of about 500,000 street deals.
"With current interstate travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, the attempt to import illicit drugs into Australia shows how opportunistic and greedy organized crime can be," AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney said in a statement.