Flight Crew Is Still Stuck In The Dominican Republic 6 Months After Finding & Reporting Drugs
For the past six months, Pivot Airlines Captain Robert Di Venanzo and his four colleagues have been detained in the Dominican Republic under what was described as inhumane and humiliating conditions, with accounts of extortion and death threats. However, the situation could take a turn for the worse as the crew is set for a court hearing that could sentence them back to prison.
Here is a recap of what happened…
On April 5th, Captain Di Venanzo and his colleagues were operating a commercially chartered flight with Pivot Airlines that was set to depart from Punta Cana International Airport back to Canada. The flight was operated on a Bombardier CRJ-100ER, registered as C-FWRR. Unfortunately, some irregularities were found in the aircraft’s avionics bay.
The unofficial arrest
Upon further inspection of the avionics bay, the maintenance engineer traveling with the crew found some suspicious duffel bags filled with what appeared to be cocaine. The maintenance engineer then relayed the findings to Captain Di Venanzo, who immediately reported the duffel bags to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Dominican Republic authorities.
Unfortunately, the Dominican Republic authorities confiscated the passports of all the crew: consisting of Captain Di Venanzo, two pilots, two flight attendants, and the sole maintenance engineer, pending further investigation. No official charges were made against them, but they were initially held in prison, released on bail, and have since been detained in a safe house within a gated community.
The attempted appeal
Before making bail, the crew suffered horribly in the Dominican Republic jail, as Captain Di Venanzo described how corpses were often placed outside their cells and constantly told that they could soon face the same unfortunate fate. As they underwent this ordeal, Pivot Airlines, humanitarian organizations, and the families of the detained crew have been appealing to the Canadian government to intervene as they feared for the crew’s safety, but to no avail yet.
Eric Edmondson, Chief Executive Officer of Pivot Airlines, said that even after making bail and living within a gated community, the crew had to be moved nearly four to five times for security reasons. Still fearing for their lives, Captain Di Venanzo and flight attendant Christine Carello spoke and appealed on behalf of everyone, once again urging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help bring them home.
Set to appear in court
At a court hearing on July 21st, the lead prosecutor had tried to reverse their bail and send them back to jail, but the hearing was adjourned due to the lack of an English translator. The hearing was rescheduled for August 25th but was again suspended for the same reason. Eventually, a motion was filed on August 31st to dismiss the case due to a fundamental lack of evidence against the crew.
Edmonson saw the motion for dismissal as a sign of good momentum, primarily since the defense had found video evidence that the drugs found had been planted by a third party, not by any of the detained crew. And with the prosecution unable to find new evidence, the alleged bogus charge had a high chance of being dropped, and they could be free.
The rescheduled court hearing should have happened in September, but Hurricane Fiona tore through the Dominican Republic and further delayed the process. A new court date has since been set for October 20th, and the lead prosecutor still wants to try and have the crew’s bail revoked, which, if approved, could send them back to jail where their lives would be further endangered as they would be considered whistleblowers.
Despite the evidence supporting the crew’s defense in the case, Edmondson is worried that corruption could see his crew never returning to Canada again. The airline chief emphasizes that they currently have several law firms in Canada and the Dominican Republic, including a private investigative firm and government relations firms, to aid the crew’s situation further. But ultimately, the airline chief believes the Canadian government should do more to secure their release.
On the contrary, the Canadian government states that they are aware of and will continue monitoring the situation closely by engaging with the relevant authorities. Hopefully, the case will turn in favor of the crew, and their several month-long ordeals will eventually come to a close for them to return home.
Source: CityNews Everywhere
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