Skip to main content

'Cocaine Cargo': Eagle-eyed flight attendant on how she uncovered key evidence


Christina Carello knows she is a good flight attendant. She’s been shepherding vacationers and executives around the world for 14 years. What she didn’t know, until a sensational series of events, is that she is a pretty good detective as well.

The 33-year-old Ontario woman’s painstaking digging uncovered the fact that key evidence had been tampered with, in a legal ordeal that kept her and her airline crew trapped in the Dominican Republic for more than seven months.

The nightmare began on April 5, 2022, when the Pivot Airlines crew was making final preparations to return seven Canadian passengers on a chartered flight from Punta Cana to Toronto. Carello was on board the plane when pilot Rob Divananzo made an announcement.

"The pilot actually came out of the flight deck and did a PA, letting the passengers know that they had to deplane because they found something on the plane," Carello told W5.

The passengers disembarked and headed to a VIP lounge while Christina and the rest of the crew stayed on the tarmac. They watched in horror as a big black duffle bag, tied up in yellow rope, was removed from the plane’s avionics bay -- a compartment under the plane that houses the computer systems.

"We didn’t know what it was. It could have been a bomb," Carello said.

But there wasn’t just one bag. There were eight. And it wasn’t a bomb. It was 210 kilograms of cocaine.

Carello says heavily armed Dominican drug squad officers eventually appeared and lined the crew and the passengers up in front of the 50-seat jet.

"The one guy said, ‘I am going to put powder in the package. If it turns blue, it’s positive for cocaine.’ And it turned blue. And at that point, he said we were all being detained. Then we got put in handcuffs. We were all in shock. Nobody knew what to say," she said.

The crew spent nine days in jail and then months under virtual house arrest, with no passports, on a no-fly list, and living in fear of retribution for reporting the drugs and disrupting a cocaine pipeline to Canada.

They were never interviewed by police. And then, out of the blue, on Nov. 10, 2022, the district attorney dropped the case against them. The crew and seven passengers are now back in Canada.

For the first time, Carello is telling the story of how she discovered that someone had tampered with airport surveillance video taken the night before the drugs were found. It’s a discovery that proves neither the crew nor the passengers could have physically loaded the drugs onto the plane.

Christina Carello in her flight attendant uniform (Supplied photo)

About three months into their detention, the Dominican prosecutor shared hours of raw surveillance video of Punta Cana airport with Pivot Airline lawyers. The crew, living in their guarded safe house, was given access to the video and spent hours poring over it.

Christina, with a notepad in hand, was about four hours into watching the footage when she hit the jackpot.

“I was tired, right? So I was like ‘Am I…are my eyes crazy?’ I had to keep playing it back and forth. I’m like, something is obviously wrong there.”

While everyone else who viewed the video -- including lawyers and investigators -- had focused on the plane, Carello was looking at the timestamp. She noticed that 40 minutes had been edited out of the video.

But then she found something else. Buried deep in a misnamed file, she discovered another video from a different angle. One that was not edited. Carello yelled out to the four other crew members.

"I said, 'I need you guys to watch this and see if I’m crazy, if I am actually seeing this right.'"

In the unedited video, you can see a Punta Cana airport truck pull up close to the plane at about 3:30 am, and over the next 25 minutes, big black bags pile up and then disappear into the plane’s belly.

Lawyers for the crew and passengers confirm that hotel surveillance video shows no one left their hotel during the night.

So, who edited the airport surveillance video? Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson says if Dominican authorities were interested in finding out, it wouldn’t be a difficult investigation.

"What we have learned is that the evidence was gathered at the security office of the Punta Cana airport. The people that have edit power of that video can only use…fingerprints to edit. I think it should be a fairly easy job to figure out who did it, given the time of day and when it was edited," Edmondson said.

W5 is airing a special investigation on Saturday night at 7 p.m. into mysterious and shady events both in the Dominican Republic and in Canada surrounding attempts to smuggle 210 kg. of cocaine into Canada.

Christina Carello, meanwhile, is trying to put the nightmare in paradise behind her.

"I think I’ll take maybe a month or two [off work], but my passion is flying. I won’t leave it."

Will she ever fly back to the Dominican Republic?


Do you have any tips on this story? Please contact Eric Szeto or Avery Haines Top Stories

Oilers rally to beat Stars, tie Western Conference Final

With the Edmonton Oilers down two goals late in the first period of Game 4, Rogers Place was quiet, fans seemingly bewildered at the early, quick scoring of the Dallas Stars and the slow start by the home team. Ryan McLeod's marker with six-and-a-half minutes in the opening frame left changed all that.

Local Spotlight