CanadaCross-border drug bust near Princeton involved helicopter chase
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PENTICTON — Reading like a script for a Hollywood blockbuster, court documents filed in Penticton recount a high-stakes game of cat and mouse that involved nearly 200 kilograms of methamphetamine and played out in the skies over the Similkameen Valley in June.
Details of the incident are spelled out in paperwork filed by police in order to obtain multiple search warrants for a property near Chilliwack, where a helicopter at the centre of the chase is alleged to have eventually landed with an RCMP plane on its tail.
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Const. Jared Zeeman of the Osoyoos-based RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime Section explains in the documents his office was alerted in early June by counterparts at the Homeland Security Investigations branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about a planned cross-border drug deal they intended to bust.
HSI agents believed a helicopter from Canada would touch down to pick up a load of drugs June 11 in a heavily wooded area near Winthrop, Wash., then return to Canada. The landing site is 60 kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border and 110 kilometres south of Princeton.
After setting up surveillance on the landing site in Washington, the HSI agents watched as the pilot of a black helicopter began circling to land, then suddenly reversed course and headed north after apparently spotting the agents.
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HSI agents on the ground subsequently arrested two men leaving the landing zone and allegedly found in their possession 188 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, the RCMP had a plane patrolling the north side of the border near Princeton in a bid to intercept the helicopter as it arrived back in Canadian air space.
Officers finally spotted the helicopter, with no visible markings, parked in a shadow on a remote mountainside in Manning Park about five kilometres north of the Canada-U.S. border.
Soon after, the helicopter lifted off again and tried to shake its tail as it headed west.
“The helicopter took deliberate evasive action, attempting to lose surveillance. The helicopter flew at very low altitudes, near the tops of trees and up narrow draws. It repeatedly changed direction, and made rapid ascents up towards the mountains,” Zeeman wrote.
“The helicopter varied its speed in an attempt to outrun the RCMP aircraft, and slowed down to have the RCMP aircraft overtake it.
“The helicopter appeared to set up to land on two occasions, luring the RCMP aircraft down, then would rapidly ascend towards the mountains.”
About 45 minutes after taking off from the clearing, Mounties watched from above as the helicopter landed at a rural property near Chilliwack.
Searches of the property allegedly turned up 72 long guns, 35 handguns, ammunition, cellphone jammers, U.S. government helicopter decals, drones and currency from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, according to the court documents.
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