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500kg cocaine load caused Cessna crash, suggest police

written by Adam Thorn | August 3, 2020

PNG coke Cessna crash (Russell Saigomi, PNG)
This photo shows the remains of the crashed Cessna after it crashed shortly after take-off (Russell Saigomi, PNG Police)

A Cessna 402C bound for Australia crashed in Papua New Guinea because the 500kg of cocaine it was carrying impaired its ability to take off, the Australian Federal Police have suggested.

On Friday, authorities swooped to charge five Australians for the alleged smuggling offence, which authorities claim could be linked to Italian organised crime.

The arrests were the result of a two-year operation between six law-enforcement agencies across both countries, which eventually recovered more than $80 million worth of the drug, equivalent of about 500,000 street deals.

Australian Border Force assistant commissioner, Peter Timson said, “This particularly audacious attempt shows just how brazen criminal enterprises can be”.

Police claim the group of Australians travelled from Melbourne and Sydney to Atherton in Queensland between 19 and 25 July with the aim of conspiring to retrieve the drug haul from Papua New Guinea.

On 26 July, the Cessna left Mareeba Airport and headed to Papua New Guinea, flying at below 1000 metres in order to evade radar. Later that day, on the return leg, the plane crashed shortly after take-off from a remote airstrip at Papa Lea Lea, north of Port Moresby, PNG.

The AFP said in a statement it believes the thieves’ “greed” played a part and could not rule out that the weight of cocaine had an impact on the Cessna’s ability to take off.


Then, two days later, the pilot presented himself to the Australian Consulate in PNG, where he was arrested and charged. Shortly afterwards, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary recovered 28 bags believed to contain 500kg of cocaine.

PNG cocaine haul
More than 500kg of cocaine was seized by PNG police, pictured here. (AFP)

Five alleged conspirators were arrested and charged in Queensland and Victoria for crimes including conspiracy to import commercial quantities of controlled drugs, directing activities of a criminal syndicate and money laundering.

The operation was a joint investigation between six law-enforcement organisations: the Australian Federal Police, Queensland and Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.


Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner of investigations Ian McCartney said, “With current interstate travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, the attempt to import illicit drugs into Australia shows how opportunistic and greedy organised crime can be.

“Australian law enforcement remains committed to working collectively to protect Australia, which is especially important now, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the community.”

Comments (9)

  • Shawn


    Haha Amateurs…

  • Tom Clifford


    If it was around 500kg it should have been ok but it must have been a lot more! Some of that payload may have gone missing 🙂

  • Lee


    Potential Darwin award candidates.

  • Evan


    Exactly! How did the pilot not know that the Weight & Balance didn’t compute…? (PS: happy for Australia that he didn’t)

  • Pilot


    My guess is the pilot entered the illegal cargo weight as 500lbs. But 500kg is actually 1102lbs. Add the weight of six 200lb guys plus full fuel, and you’re 765lb over maximum take-off weight. Add reduction in takeoff performance for decreased air density etc and you might not have enough runway.

  • Nfw


    Were they wearing face nappies?

  • Neil


    How brilliant was it to fly the aircraft under the Radar purely so they couldn’t be detected,but then got their just deserts not making it back to Australia due to the plane having a Weight load issue.Not having Weight and balance right in a Twin engine Cessna is critical.
    Very amatureish,sounds like the Pilot & the Crime figures were greedy and didn’t have a clue and thankfully the law caught up with all involved.

  • Marum


    I read a PNG site, with an eye witness account of the crash. He reckoned that an engine was turned off deliberately. Thus: The crash was engineered. (My words) The Cessna was apparently stripped out to carry freight, so 500Kg should not be a problem, unless there was more there already as @Tom Clifford, said.

    The other thing the eye witness said, was that the police were waiting there already. So there may be more to this than meets the eye. I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but knowing how corruption is in PNG, I would not be surprised if it were a “sting”. It is not known as, “The Land of The Unexpected” for nothing.

    It is a country I love, but corruption is both epidemic and endemic.

    Sampela Balus i go bagarap. Hehe….Marum.

  • Marum


    Furthur information from my PNG friends, which may be pertinent. The airstrip at Papa Lea Lea was an ad hoc freshly graded dirt strip. Mt friend estimated it at no more than 500 metres long. (approx 1650 feet) Also there were 20L empty containers of fuel left at the site.

    So assuming that it was fully fuelled and 90%+ load, there may not have been enough runway to achieve takeoff velocity. So the pilot may have reefed it off the ground a bit below climb-out speed. For the distance from PNG to FNQ, a full fuel load was not necessary. Unless the pilot was not told the final destination.

    Thus, the aircraft may have been overloaded for the conditions. Weather In Pot Mosbi at this time of the year is usually 26C to 30C but is very windy, usually in excess of 17 KPH ESE to WSW. It will be interesting to see the final accident report. If there was a tailwind, the aircraft was definitely overloaded for the conditions.


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