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Guyana mulls expanding airspace coverage following another illegal aircraft, airstrip discovery

Guyana plans to expand its airspace coverage in the wake of the latest discovery of an illegal airstrip and an illegally-landed plane bearing a Brazilian registration number.

“The Government is extremely concerned.  We are concerned that 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,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon was quoted as saying in a government statement.

The Beechcraft King Air plane bears registration number PR-IMG. Though the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) registration code, PR, is Brazilian; criminals, especially cocaine traffickers, usually paint fake registration numbers on planes.

Police sources said nothing illegal has been so far found in the plane that landed on a recently rehabilitated illegal airstrip on the outskirts of Santa Fe,  North Rupununi. Interior Divisional Commander, Ravindradat Budhram said that the 5,400-foot long, 45-foot wide airstrip appeared to have undergone recent repairs. This strip had been discovered and destroyed by the GDF only a few years ago.

Furthermore, it is located approximately five miles from another illegal airstrip, which was discovered last week by a GDF patrol that was on a reconnaissance mission at the time.

Items in the interior of the Beechcraft Kingair that landed without authorisation on an illegal airstrip at North Rupununi.

According the Commander 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.

Commander Budhram said that following the discovery of the plane an extensive search was mounted by a Joint Services team for the men, who had been observed fleeing.  That search continues.

The Minister of State called on Guyanese 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. “Guyanese are a part of the country’s national security apparatus. We would like to ask them to report any activity they may consider illegal. 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.

The cockpit of the Beechcraft Kingair.

He said 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. He added that the administration is taking this matter very seriously and is making every effort to better equip the security forces and strengthen their capacity to secure Guyana’s territory.

Government has since announced that an inter-agency team on Monday conducted an initial assessment of the twin-engine plane that sources describe as “very posh”. 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,”government said.

The Interior Divisional Police Commander  was quoted as saying that 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.

The Divisional Commander 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.

The inter-agency team that is probing the occurrence is made up of representatives of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF) Criminal Investigations Department (CID), the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

The discovery of this airstrip and aircraft follows the discovery of another illegal airstrip in Yurupukari, Region Nine in September 2015. Investigations later revealed that the plane had originated in Colombia.