Friday, February 03, 2012

Cartels Take Drug War To The Skies: Smugglers Transport Drugs In Ultra-Light Planes

POSTED: 8:49 am MST February 3, 2012
UPDATED: 9:07 am MST February 3, 2012

DEMING, N.M. -- New Mexico's southern border with Mexico is the main ground for the trafficking war against illegal drugs, but Target 7 has learned smugglers have taken the battle to the air.

Authorities said age-old drug smuggling techniques are as strong as ever.

"(The drugs are hidden) in gas tanks, propane tanks, tires, things like that or simply backpacked across from Mexico," New Mexico State Police Officer Beau Johnston said.

But a new threat from above is emerging along our southern border, and law enforcement representatives admit that a lot of their tools don't do much good when it comes to fighting it.

Target 7 obtained nighttime video from the National Geographic Channel's "Border Wars" that shows an ultra-light aircraft zipping across the border, dropping illegal drugs and then disappearing into the night.

"If they get away with it once or twice, what is to say I can't do it three or four more times," Johnston said.

Johnston is one of the state police's top drug trackers and has closed the books on hundreds of cases. But when his department stumbled on a wrecked ultra-light aircraft near New Mexico's bootheel last August, Johnston knew it was something different.

"(They're) cost effective and harder to detect," Johnston said.

Some of the planes cost as little as a few thousand dollars and they can swoop in to make precise drops below 500 feet. They fly so low that radar detection is difficult at best.

While smugglers continue to use traditional methods, federal authorities said they've documented more than 500 flights across the border in the past few years.

Sen. Tom Udall, along with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, sounded a major congressional wake-up call by getting legislation passed to stiffen the penalty for using ultra-lights to transport drugs.

"You're, in a very real sense, flying under most of the protection that the US has put there on the border," Udall said.

Johnston said it's a step in the right direction, but the border battle rages on.

"What worked last year, may not work this year. So we've got to stay current," Johnston said.

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