2014 Australia turboprop drug bust
|Date||July 8, 2014|
|Location||Illawarra Airport, Wollongong, Australia|
|Description||35 kg of heroin were accidentally found by local police aboard a CIA plane|
Corporate media outside of Australia has had not much to say on the story of the "mystery plane", although the UK Daily Mail did report it the next day. The Australian state authorities were very tight lipped about it.
Originally manufactured in 1971, the plane was owned by a US-registered Delaware corporation called the Oregonian Aeroclub LLC, apparently a front company. Daniel Hopsicker reported 2 months after the event on "a CIA deal with the US Forest Service. And the CIA never sells off its planes." As usually happens with such drug bust planes, ownership of the plane suddenly becomes convoluted and contested in the time leading up to the bust.
David Baddams flew the plane across the Pacific Ocean from the US to the Philippines. On May 5 it arrived in Angeles City, near Manila in the Philippines – the last place it is known to have been before arriving in Australia. The next time appears on control tower was June 27 when it left Coffs Harbour airport to travel to Albion Park.
Autralian ABC was told that the pilot was accompanied by Bernie Stevermuer "who is involved with the aviation business" and was reportedly "in negotiations to buy the flight training organisation NSW Air and the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service, both based at the Illawarra Regional Airport".
An anonymous local plane watcher said the plane had been coming and going from the airport since late June. "It might go away for a day and come back," he said. "If we don't see it on the Monday, we'll see it on the Wednesday."
Snow Goose International released a statement[When?] saying it was contracted by the Oregonian Aeroclub LLC to ferry a 1971 Swearingen Merlin aircraft from the US to the Philippines. It said that "once the aircraft arrived in the Philippines, the contract between Snow Goose International and the owner was completed."
Initial reports suggested that the plane was carrying around 35kg of illegal drugs, but did not identify them. State police refused to even confirm the presence of drugs. Hopsicker reports that the drug concerned was heroin.
It is unknown who decided to initiate a search of what the commercially-controlled media and the authorities were quick to call a "mystery plane". Acting Inspector Matthew Glasgow from Albion Park police reported that "local police assisted with the initial search of the plane but had 'nothing more to do with it'." Control appears to have been quickly assumed by the Australian State Crime Command who were quick not to confirm or deny anything.
Police attached to the Lake Illawarra Area Command said officers from the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad were leading the investigation, but the squad itself were reported to "have declined to confirm whether the squad is involved".
Bernhard Stevermuer was charged at Port Kembla Local Court on 6 August 2014. Investigators claimed that they had discovered a "criminal syndicate was run by two men who are yet to face court over the matter and who they say are ‘‘responsible for orchestrating an established, sophisticated well-respected drug manufacture and distribution network operating throughout southwest Sydney,’’"