… aircraft origin still to be determined – Crime ChiefBy Lakhram BhagiratThe multi-taskforce investigative team, dispatched to investigate the circumstances leading to abandonment of an illegal twin engine Beechcraft aircraft on an illegal airstrip in Region 9 (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), discovered identifying documents belonging to states of Brazil and Venezuela and are working to verify the authenticities of those. They are also in contact with regional and international counterparts to verify the origin of the aircraft.The seized twin engine Beechcraft aircraftOn Sunday, acting on information, a team from Police ‘F’ Division visited the area and discovered a 5,400-foot long; 45-foot wide airstrip that appeared to have undergone recent repairs. This strip had been discovered and destroyed by the GDF only a few years ago. The aircraft landed while the ranks were making their way back to the airstrip. They reported that they saw some persons running into the bush.Inside of the aircraftCrime Chief, Wendell Blanhum, told this publication they are trying to verify the origin of the aircraft and whether any criminal records are associated with the identifying documents found on the aircraft.Although initial reports state that the illegal twin engine Beechcraft is of Colombian origin, new information have surfaced indicating that it is registered to Brazil’s third largest bank Banco Bradesco.However, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority said that they have received this information and are working with their Brazilian counterparts to determine whether the plane is indeed registered in that country.The cockpit of the aircraftState Minister Joseph Harmon in a statement late Monday night, said that a team comprising of members from the Guyana Defence Force, the Police Force’s Criminal Investigations Department, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and other related agencies have been deployed to the area to conduct an initial investigation.Harmon noted that this initial assessment is an effort to gather evidence that will assist in the investigation into the circumstances, which led to the aircraft being abandoned on an illegal airstrip.Nevertheless, he noted that Government expects a full investigation into this serious national security issue.According to the ‘F’ Division Commander, Ravindradat Budhram, having received information from an unnamed source that the airstrip was being used, investigating ranks visited the site and were leaving the area when they observed an aircraft circling some distance away. The aircraft landed while the ranks were making their way back to the airstrip. They reported that they saw some persons running into the bush.Following the discovery of the plane, an extensive search was mounted by a Joint Services team for the men, who had been observed fleeing, and the search continues.Budhram noted that a search of the area unearthed three abandoned camps, in which canned food and other items were found. Additionally, 16 10-gallon containers, which are suspected to have contained aviation fuel, were also discovered. During the search of the aircraft, several pieces of communication equipment, including cellular phones, flashlights, a quantity of dried ration, medical supplies and an identification card were discovered.Increasing airspace coverageThe government said that because of the vast land and airspace, Guyana is particularly vulnerable to transnational security threats and that they are working with both local and international partners to build capacity and strengthen security as it relates to monitoring the airspace and landmass.“The Government is extremely concerned. We are concerned that these aircraft are utilising our large gaps in the security coverage in the hinterland areas, but we are looking carefully to see how we can have a proper coverage of those areas,” Harmon said.The State Minister also said that Government recognises that over a period of years, there are those who have taken advantage of the lack of adequate resources to properly monitor those areas. Harmon also stated that the administration is taking this matter very seriously and is making every effort to better equip the security forces and strengthen its capacity to secure Guyana’s territory.Back in 2014, the GCAA installed the Automatic Dependence Surveillance Broadcast Project (ADS-B). The project was part of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) global plan for the seamless transition of flights through the world’s airspace.At the launching of that initiative then Transport Minister, Robeson Benn, said the project is a significant achievement for the transport sector more so the aviation sector as the demands have been growing over the years. He said, too, that the project provides a more advanced means of air surveillance and air safety.In October of 2015 then Director General of the GCAA, Chitranie Heeralall, told an Aviation Conference that Guyana will begin monitoring its entire airspace the following month but would be unable to spot illegal aircrafts since a radar system is required to do such.However, government said that a radar system is too expensive to acquire and maintain.Harmon also called on Guyanese citizens to play their part and to ensure that illegal activities, regardless of the location in which they take place, are reported to the relevant authorities. He noted that it is illegal for any aircraft to land or be in Guyana unless they have the permission of the Government and the GCAA.“While we have large expanses of land in the Rupununi that can be used for airstrips, it is illegal to have these airstrips. We should see ourselves playing an important part in our country,” Minister Harmon said.Meanwhile, investigations are ongoing, and the aircraft is said to have suffered some mechanical difficulties. The GCAA is working to repair that and have it flown to the city.Just two weeks ago, an illegal airstrip was unearthed about five kilometres West of Santa Fe, Rupununi, Region Nine, by members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) who were patrolling the area.The ranks were conducting a reconnaissance mission when they stumbled upon the seeming newly built airstrip. Following a closer inspection of the perimeter of the airstrip, several dug out trenches were found. They were covered with black plastic and dried branches.Upon removing the plastic and branches, several items were found concealed in the holes including a chainsaw and fuel drums. In addition, a ¼ drum of aviation fuel was also found at the site.At least 12 abandoned camps were also found in close proximity of the airstrip. These camps were reportedly used by farmers over a period of time.In September 2016, a Joint Services patrol discovered an illegal aircraft hidden just off of the Yupukari Airstrip, Rupununi with United States registration N-767-Z.Subsequently, a team of investigators from the GDF, GPF, Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority was deployed from Georgetown to the area to conduct investigations and were able to determine that the registration number was bogus.Moreover, investigators had discovered during interviews with nearby residents that the aircraft had been sighted circling the area on numerous occasions in the past.Additionally, a number of residents shared information they deemed as “suspicious activity”, including the presence of motorcycles or ATVs frequenting the area at midnight. It was reported that a leak was discovered in the fuel tank of the aircraft. This, investigators believe, may have caused the aircraft to land in Guyana.However, it has been reported that one of the local law enforcement agencies was aware of the aircraft at least three weeks before the disclosure was made. It was reported that the security officials were monitoring the aircraft to see if anyone would return to salvage it.Meanwhile, President David Granger has established a one-man Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to probe the discovery of the illegal aircraft and appointed retired Brigadier Edward Collins to investigate, examine, advice and report on all aspects under which the foreign aircraft had entered the country.During the CoI, public meetings were held in several villages including Katoka, Kaicumbay, Yupukari and other villages. The CoI proved that the aircraft entered Guyana illegally.The illegal twin-engine Cessna aircraft was subsequently flown from Yupukari to Lethem initially, before it was flown to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport where it remains to date.