A Canadian passenger airline crew detained in the Dominican Republic since April has arrived back in Canada.
The five-person crew landed in Toronto Thursday evening, according to Pivot Airlines.
“While we are relieved for the crew’s long overdue return, we know that this incident has taken a heavy toll on their lives, and the lives of their families,” said airline CEO Eric Edmondson in a statement. “For that reason, we are asking media and the public to respect their privacy at this time.”
The ordeal began in early April of this year, when the five-person crew of a Pivot Airlines flight from Calgary to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, found a strange bag aboard the aircraft and reported it to authorities.
More bags were subsequently discovered, and local police say they eventually found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine aboard the jet.
‘Living a nightmare’
It’s not entirely clear what happened.
The two pilots, two flight attendants and one part-time maintenance engineer were jailed, then later released on bail after surrendering their passports pending further investigation.
Following the cocaine discovery, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Unifor said their members were arbitrarily detained, threatened and prosecuted despite following Transport Canada protocols and international laws.
In June, one of the pilots, Captain Robert Di Venanzo, told CBC News that he and the other pilot, two flight attendants and a maintenance engineer, were “living a nightmare” after they did what they thought was the right thing by reporting the drugs to the authorities.
“We thought we were heroes, what we found and what we reported,” he said at the time. “We thought we did an amazing thing by not allowing these things to come back to Canada.”
While in jail, Di Venanzo said, they were told they’d be killed.
“We’ve been threatened with death by narco criminals, extorted by inmates, and have lived in inhumane and humiliating conditions,” he said in a video posted online with his crew last week begging the Canadian government for help.
“In prison, a dead body was placed outside our cell and we were told we would be next. We are living a nightmare.”
In his statement Thursday, Edmondson said he was grateful to everyone who worked to get the five home, “including CUPE, ALPA, Unifor, Senator David Wells, as well as our government partners.”
He said all have been reunited with their loved ones.
“The crew has demonstrated incredible courage and resilience throughout the harrowing ordeal which saw them wrongly detained in the Dominican Republic for nearly eight months. Their steadfast commitment to public safety and the rule of law is a testament to the professionalism of all Canadian air crew.”
The airline has hired Navigator, a well known PR agency and crisis management firm in Ottawa, to work on their behalf.