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Old Jets Used to Smuggle Cocaine to United States


February 1995

According to government sources in the United States and Mexico, Colombian drug smugglers have been using old 727's to fly cocaine into Mexico to be smuggled later into the US (Tim Golden, "Tons of Cocaine Reaching Mexico in Old Jets," New York Times, Jan. 10, 1995, p. A1).

The sources report that smugglers buy the jets, remove the seats, and attempt to fly six tons of cocaine or more to Mexico on each flight. Each load of cocaine can be worth as much as $120 million on the street in the U.S.

The jets travel virtually undetected because they usually travel at night with their lights and radar transponder equipment turned off. The traffickers alter the plane's identification numbers and do not file flight plans.

Most notably, the planes fly at higher speeds than other aircraft, outrunning drug enforcement jets. Even when Mexican drug enforcement officials do catch the planes, traffickers often abandon them on airstrips because they are relatively cheap to replace.

While the Mexican and Colombian governments deny knowledge of the flights, US officials feel that knowledge by high ranking government or law enforcement officials is likely. According to an anonymous U.S. government official, San Andres airport, located on an island off the coast of Colombia, "is completely in the hands of the traffickers ... [a]nd the Colombian Government is doing zero about it."

The U.S. first became aware of these flights in May 1994 when a Boeing 727 landed in an airstrip used by the Mexican airline Taesa. Taesa employees claimed that the drug traffickers forced them to allow the plane to land, unload the cargo, and leave the airport.

Recently, local police were alerted to a plane with broken landing gear that had touched down in Sombrerete in the state of Zacatecas. Drug enforcement officials were called in when the local police found an estimated six to eight tons of cocaine. Only 2.5 tons were recovered, suggesting to U.S. officials that the smugglers were being helped by local law enforcement or airport personnel.