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Canadian crew says they were jailed after reporting suspected contraband on Dominican Republic flight


A pilot from Antigonish, N.S., wants more people to pay attention to what’s happening to his friends and colleagues who are detained in the Dominican Republic after millions of dollars worth of cocaine was found on their plane.

On April 5, the Pivot Airlines crew was thrown in jail after drugs were found in multiple duffel bags. Carl Falsnes knows some of the crew from working at a different airline. He’s close friends with Aatif Safdar, a pilot from Hamilton, Ont.

Pivot is a privately owned charter airline based in Toronto.

“I check our chat group and our feed every day wondering what is going on with these guys. Aatif has a young child, has a young wife,” Falsnes told CBC News.

The crew is out on bail. They released a video last week explaining their side of the story and asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help get them home.

Capt. Robert Di Venanzo said two months ago, the crew found suspected contraband on board its aircraft destined for Canada. They reported it to the RCMP and Dominican Republic authorities. 

“The Dominicans threw us in jail,” Di Venanzo said.

‘We’ve been threatened with death,’ pilot says

“We’ve been threatened with death by narco criminals, extorted by inmates and have lived in inhumane and humiliating conditions. In prison a dead body was placed outside our cell, and we were told we would be next. We are living a nightmare.”

Di Venanzo said they could be sent back to jail at a moment’s notice.

“Mr. Prime Minister, we need your help. We did our job by reporting these drugs and saved Canadian lives. Now we need you to do yours,” he said.

WATCH | N.S. pilot fears for friends detained in Dominican Republic

N.S. pilot fears for friends detained in Dominican Republic

In April, a crew from Pivot Airlines was thrown in jail after millions of dollars worth of cocaine was found on their plane. The crew are friends and colleagues of Antigonish, N.S., pilot Carl Falsnes. Falsnes said the case needs more attention in Canada.

Falsnes said he’s tried sending texts to the crew, but they haven’t been received. He said he’s not even sure they have their phones.

“I mean it’s quite incredible that a crew member that finds a problem can end up in a situation where your life is threatened to the point where you’re not even sure you’re going to make it out of there,” Falsnes said.

Falsnes said the situation isn’t getting enough attention. He’s concerned his friends won’t get justice in the Dominican Republic. Falsnes wants the federal government to intervene.

Federal government aware

During his visit to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last week, Prime Minister Trudeau met with the Dominican President Luis Abinader.

On his official website the prime minister says he “raised the case of the Canadian air crew in the Dominican Republic and received assurances that the authorities will address the matter according to the rule of law.”

Global Affairs Canada said it is also aware of the crew’s situation.

Bricks of cocaine were found on the plane. (National Drug Control Directorate)

“Canadian officials continue to monitor the situation closely, are engaging with local authorities, and providing consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed,” read a statement from Charlotte MacLeod, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.

In the meantime Falsnes is worried about his friend. The last time they spoke was four days before the flight. He said he was excited to be flying more. During the pandemic, Falsnes said Safdar made money by driving for Uber.

“I feel for these people. It’s so sad. You go to work, you do your job and you end up in jail,” he said.

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