Police in Deniliquin, 435 miles south of Sydney, arrested the 67-year-old pilot of a light plane carrying 100 pounds of weed and 9 pounds of the methamphetamine precursor, ephedrine on Wednesday. Video footage released by police shows officers swooping in on the pilot as he struggles to escape the cockpit. He then gets handcuffed against a wall. Police then remove several duffel bags filled with large, vacuum-packed blocks of hydro weed. The plane has since been seized for forensic examination.
For police, this moment comes after an eight-month, cross-border drug and firearm supply investigation. Over the course of the investigation, led by the NSW Gang Squad, police seized 38 firearms and unknown quantities of ecstasy and ice. The investigation also purportedly uncovered links to outlaw motorcycle gangs in South Australia.
Police allege that affiliates of the South Australian Descendants and Hells Angels have been channeling large quantities of drugs and guns to NSW. Simultaneous raids conducted in Deniliquin and Adelaide have led to a further 10 arrests, while the investigation is ongoing. Queensland police still have outstanding warrants in the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
Gang Squad Detective Inspector Gavin Wood hailed this operation as a success. "Today's a great result for all police forces involved," he said. "It has demonstrated how three major state police forces, working collectively together, can produce great results."
Of course, arrests like these don't necessarily stem the number of people happy to sell drugs. The sale of illicit drugs is the backbone of the criminal economy with cannabis the biggest seller. It also provides the largest number of drug-related arrests and seizures nationwide, with a record 66,684 cannabis related arrests occurring between 2013 and 2014, according to the Australian Crime Commission.
Despite all the busts, gang membership is on the rise. According the ACC, an estimated 40 outlaw motorcycle gangs continue to operate in Australia, with some 6,000 patched members.
And while 100 pounds is significantly bigger than the average street bust, it's taken relatively little out of the market. NSW Police seized over seven tonnes of cannabis last year, dwarfing this quantity by comparison. Instead the most notable aspect of this seizure was its transport method.
Smugglers are regularly known to use a light aircraft in South America and the US, but such distribution in Australia is extremely rare. The only other recent example occurred in May, in which a man was arrested after flying in a load of ice in from the US. In this case an extremely fast sea plane was used, presumably to combat the distance from the US to Australia. In fact, this is generally why planes aren't used at all—the distances are just too great. And as Australian state lines aren't patrolled, moving contraband on wheels is a much cheaper option. So why these guys used a plane to shift a piddling quantity of high-weight, low-cost weed, remains unclear.
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