An aircraft which was overloaded with cocaine crashed on take-off on its way to Australia, police announced on Saturday.
The incident led to the exposure of a Melbourne-based crime syndicate and the arrest of five men with alleged links to the Italian mafia.
According to information, the Cessna aircraft, which was stuffed with more than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of cocaine, went down when it attempted to leave a remote airstrip in Papua New Guinea on July 26.
A statement released by Australian Federal Police states that “greed played a significant part in the syndicate’s activities” and added they “cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the planes (sic) ability to take off.”
Five suspects were arrested in Queensland and Victoria in recent days, and are facing charges of conspiring to import over 500 kilograms of cocaine and a number of related offenses.
Each will face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. The pilot was also arrested two days later, after surrendering himself to police.
Authorities announced that the plane had flown to Papua New Guinea from the small town of Mareeba in Far North Queensland, flying at about 3,000 feet to avoid detection by radar.
“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,” AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney declared in a statement.