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Pivot Airlines crew seeking justice after 'cocaine cargo' detainment

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It’s a story that just keeps getting bigger; a story that raises troubling questions about who knew what, and when.

W5 producer Eric Szeto and I have been digging deeper into the Pivot Airlines ordeal, now that the crew is safely back in Canada. They were detained under virtual house arrest in the Dominican Republic for eight months, after finding and reporting 210 kilograms of cocaine on their 50-seat jet.

Gathering for the first time since their release in December of 2022, the crew is demanding answers from the Canadian government about why they were left to languish for so long on the tropical island for "doing their jobs."

They thought they would be hailed as heroes. Instead, Dominican authorities accused them of being part of an international crime syndicate, even though they were never questioned and never charged.

Canada's Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra has promised an investigation. The RCMP cryptically says, "The RCMP does not confirm, deny, or release information pertaining to active investigations."

And yet neither transport officials nor the Mounties have interviewed the crew, nor have they shared details on the status of those possible probes.

Pilot Rob DiVenanzo tells W5, "I’ve gone through enough. I’m going to fight until we find out why this happened. I’m not going away."

His co-pilot, Aatif Safdar, is equally angered by the silence of Canadian authorities. "They don’t want to investigate. They don’t want to talk about it."

Four members of the Pivot Airlines crew reunite for the first time since their release from the Dominican Republic last December (W5)

Their ordeal began almost exactly one year ago.

On March 31, 2022, the five-person crew departed Toronto’s Pearson Airport for what was supposed to be a four-day charter.

Their nightmare began as they were preparing to leave Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic. A warning light led to the discovery of the drugs in the avionics bay of the plane.

W5’s initial investigation, Cocaine Cargo, uncovered details about the shady criminal history of a number of passengers on the flight. We revealed that the company that hired the charter didn’t exist. We exposed the man who paid for the flights: a small-time Edmonton real estate consultant named Vick Mander.

Former RCMP investigator Gary Clement has pored over the research W5 has compiled and says he can’t understand why the RCMP is being so silent about a conspiracy to smuggle hundreds of kilos of cocaine into Canada.

"This is not a complicated case. What surprised me is there wasn’t a number of RCMP investigators jumping all over this," he told W5. Among the crimes that he believes should be investigated: conspiracy to import cocaine, money laundering and possession of proceeds of crime.

The RCMP has not questioned the alleged money-man, Vick Mander, and there is no evidence that the passengers have been questioned, either. 

The crew says their ordeal should be a red flag for any Canadian who travels to the tourist destination.

"We know that the Dominican Republic is a drug-source country. We need to really step up our efforts and be sure that Canadians that are flying in there are safe," Pilot DiVenanzo told W5.

"Airplanes continue to fly there. Canadians continue to vacation there. The responsibility has to be on the Canadian government to be sure that those Canadians are as safe as they can be."

File photo: Captain Robert Di Venanzo (left) was stranded in the Dominican Republic for eight months, from the spring until December of 2022.

W5 has exposed evidence of corruption at the Punta Cana Airport, specifically that an official airport truck was involved in transporting the duffle bags of drugs onto the plane and that surveillance video was edited to remove that evidence.

The crew, who pleaded for months for the Canadian government to get them home, felt abandoned while in the DR and say they continue to be abandoned now that they are home.

"Absolute silence still today," said frustrated flight attendant Alex Roznov.

About the Canadian government, co-pilot Aatif Safdar says: "They don’t want to investigate. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to give answers." 

W5’s new investigation reveals exclusive details about who was behind the smuggling conspiracy and what the RCMP knew about the plan, and when. Watch Cocaine Cargo II Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV.

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

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