Plane bound for Australia 'so packed with cocaine it was too heavy to take off'
A light plane heading for Australia was allegedly laden with so much cocaine it was too heavy to take off, police say.
The plane, allegedly packed with $80 million worth of the illegal drug, was trying to fly from Papua New Guinea to Queensland when it crashed on take-off last week.
It allegedly had 500 kilograms of drugs on board - about the same weight as a horse - when it tried to take off from a remote airstrip near Port Moresby.
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Police allege the plane had already flown illegally at a low height from Mareeba in Far North Queensland to the country, to avoid radar detection.
"The AFP alleges greed played a significant part in the syndicate's activities and cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane's ability to take off," the AFP said in a statement.
Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary seized the drugs last night after a six day search in the jungle.
Five members of a Melbourne-based crime syndicate face multiple charges for trying to import the drugs - enough for half a million deals - and face life in jail.
Police say they have links to Italian organised crime.
The Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce allege the group travelled from Melbourne and Sydney to Atherton, near Cairns, to import and collect the cocaine.
Upon landing, police say the drugs were to be driven from Mareeba to Victoria in the back of a truck, hidden in a load of gyprock.
'Ndrangheta' mafia Members Salvatore Formica and Pierino Forni will face an extradition hearing on August 10.
Also charged are 31-year-old Aiden Khoder, Sydney man George Merheb and the truck driver Osman Elhouli.
The plane's Australian pilot handed himself in at the Australian consulate and was arrested and charged with an immigration offence.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Investigations Ian McCartney said it's the end of a two-year multi-agency drugs operation.
"These arrests prove no matter how sophisticated or opportunistic organised crime's attempts are, or the methods they use, law enforcement is keeping pace and causing maximum damage to these criminal ventures," Dep. Comm. 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."