— as probe into mystery plane intensifies
IN the light of concerns over the police’s account of the occupants of an illegal aircraft landing on an illegal airstrip in the Rupununi earlier this month, Superintendent Michael Sutton has been transferred to Lethem.
Sutton’s transferral,the Guyana Chronicle was informed, is aimed at enhancing the Guyana Police Force’s operational focus in Region Nine. He will serve as the officer-in-charge and joins Deputy Superintendent of Police Rudolph Banwarie.
On August 14, the police discovered an abandoned aircraft on an illegal airstrip discovered two weeks prior some five miles west of Santa Fé.
According to police, the discovery was made as a result of “a due-vigilance exercise” following reports of the frequent sighting of a foreign aircraft in the Santa Fé area.
It was the result of a tip-off that the police visited the area and conducted a thorough check when they uncovered over a dozen 10-gallon jars of fuel in the bushes, and that a swathe of land had been recently cleared.
It was as the team was preparing to leave the area, they observed an aircraft circling overhead some distance away. On returning to the cleared area, the police saw three men running away from the aircraft, which had by then landed.
Reports are that a vehicle was also left behind by the scurrying men, but the police made no mention of it in their release, except to say that they had secured the abandoned aircraft.
The aircraft has been positively identified by local aviation sources as a high-performance Beechcraft King Air 350model, with a load capacity of more than 10,000lbs on take-off, bearing registration PR- IMG.
The aircraft is reportedly connected to an investment bank in Brazil, but investigators said it is possible that the aircraft operators used false registration information.
The police had also discovered a quantity of dry rations, medical supplies, gents clothing and footwear, two hand-held radios, flashlights, cellular phones and an identification card among other items stored in the aircraft.
Additionally, the cleared area where the aircraft had landed was found to be just over a mile long and about 50 feet wide. It appeared to have been recently graded. It should be noted that two weeks before the discovery of the aircraft, the army had reported finding among other things, 12 abandoned camps, several dug-out trenches, one chainsaw, and an undisclosed quantity of fuel.
However, top security sources told the Guyana Chronicle that an aerial survey of the area shows that it would have been very difficult for anyone to escape, as the area is surrounded by a swamp and a cluster of trees.
“From all appearances, someone might have ushered these guys out of the area,” the source said, adding that contrary to initial reports, five men were aboard the aircraft, the pilot, co-pilot and three other occupants. The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is also part of the investigation.
The discovery of the airstrip and aircraft follows the discovery of another illegal airstrip in Yupukari, Region Nine, (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) in 2016.
Investigations later revealed that the CESSNA plane had originated in Colombia. Guyana’s vast land and airspace make the country vulnerable to transnational security threats.
Investigations into the presence of that illegal aircraft showed that two senior members of the Joint Services were involved in the landing and operations of the cocaine-carrying Colombian-registered aircraft that was discovered at Yupukari.
The officers — a deputy superintendent of police and a second lieutenant of the GDF — were removed from their postings in the area. Brigadier (ret’d) Edward Collins was tasked with heading a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the circumstances surrounding the illegal aircraft and in his preliminary findings, said toshaos of the indigenous communities were “unwilling to provide information” to the security forces.
“I can only assume… based on the evidence that I have received so far, that the relationship between the villages and the security forces is not as [we would have] expected,” he said.
President David Granger has expressed much concern over the discovery of the illegal aircraft here and said the matter is being treated as a public security matter.
“It would be premature of me to say what will happen to the plane, we don’t know if it was in distress, we don’t know if it was involved in any illegal activities, but as soon as that investigation is completed we will ensure that the results are known,” he said.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had noted that the government is working with local and international partners to build capacity and strengthen security.
“The government is extremely concerned; we are concerned that these aircraft are utilising our large gaps in the security coverage in the hinterland areas, but we are looking carefully to see how we can have a proper coverage of those areas,” he said.
He said, too, that government has recognised that over a period of years, there are those who have taken advantage of the lack of adequate resources to properly monitor those areas, but noted that his administration is taking the matter very seriously and is making every effort to better equip the security forces and strengthen their capacity to secure Guyana’s territory.