Pivot Airlines crew wants justice after ‘cocaine cargo’ detainment
It’s an ever-growing story. A story that raises the thorny question of who knew what and when.
W5 Producer Eric Szeto and I have delved deeper into Pivot Airlines’ ordeal now that the crew is safely back in Canada. They were detained under virtual house arrest for eight months after they reported finding 210 kilograms of cocaine in a 50-passenger jet in the Dominican Republic.
The crew, who have assembled for the first time since their release in December 2022, are seeking answers from the Canadian government as to why “doing work” has caused them to suffer for so long on a tropical island.
I thought they would be hailed as heroes. Instead, Dominican authorities accused them of being part of an international crime syndicate, even though they were never questioned or charged.
Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Al Ghabra promised an investigation. The RCMP cryptically states that “the RCMP does not confirm, deny or release information regarding ongoing investigations.”
However, neither transportation officials nor the cavalry have interviewed the crew or shared details about the circumstances of a possible investigation.
Pilot Rob DiBenanzo told W5, “I’ve been through enough. I’m going to fight until I know why this happened. I’m not leaving.”
His co-pilot, Aatif Safdar, is equally angry at the Canadian authorities’ silence. “They don’t want to investigate. They don’t want to talk about it.”
Four Pivot Airlines crew members reunite for the first time since being liberated from the Dominican Republic last December (W5)
Their ordeal began almost exactly one year ago.
On March 31, 2022, a crew of five left Toronto’s Pearson Airport on a four-day charter flight.
Their nightmare began as they prepared to leave Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic. A warning light led to the discovery of drugs in the plane’s avionics bay.
Initial survey of W5, cocaine cargodetails revealed dubious criminal record of a large number of passengers in flight. The company that hired the charter has clarified that it does not exist. We exposed a small Edmonton real estate consultant named Vic Mander, the man who paid for the flight.
Former RCMP investigator Gary Clement said he perused the investigation compiled by the W5 and could not understand why the RCMP was silent about the conspiracy to smuggle hundreds of kilos of cocaine into Canada.
“This is not a complicated case. What surprised me was that RCMP investigators weren’t flying around the issue,” he told W5. Crimes he believes should be investigated include conspiracy to import cocaine, money laundering, and possession of criminal proceeds.
The RCMP did not interrogate the allegedly rich Vic Mander, and there is no evidence that passengers were interrogated.
The crew say their ordeal should be a red flag for Canadians traveling to tourist destinations.
“We know the Dominican Republic is a drug supplier and we really need to step up our efforts and ensure the safety of Canadians flying there,” pilot DiBenanzo told W5. .
“Planes keep flying there. Canadians keep vacationing there. The Canadian government must take responsibility for making sure Canadians are as safe as possible.”
File photo: Captain Robert Di Benanzo (left) was stranded in the Dominican Republic for eight months from spring until December 2022.
W5 uncovers evidence of corruption at Punta Cana airport. Specifically, an official airport truck was involved in carrying his drug duffel bag to the plane. Surveillance video edited to remove the evidence.
The crew, who spent months begging the Canadian government to return home, say they felt abandoned while in the DR and continue to be abandoned even after returning home.
“Today is also complete silence,” said irritated flight attendant Alex Roznov.
Speaking to the Canadian government, co-pilot Aatif Safdar said:
A new W5 investigation has revealed exclusive details about who was behind the smuggling conspiracy and what and when the RCMP knew about the plot.clock Cocaine Cargo II Saturday at 7pm on CTV.
Any hints for this story? Contact Avery Haines or Eric Szeto