U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s air operations spotted and interdicted an ultra-light aircraft Tuesday that illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexican border carrying approximately 223 pounds of marijuana. The smuggled drugs have an approximate street value of $180,000.
CBP’s Air & Marine Operations Center in Riverside, Calif. detected an unidentified northbound, low-flying aircraft 12 miles west of Nogales, Ariz. and just north of the border. A CBP surveillance helicopter from Tucson was launched and identified the airplane as an ultra-light aircraft. The ultra-light landed three miles southwest of Marana Regional Airport, Marana, Ariz. Once on the ground, the pilot attempted to abscond on foot. The CBP helicopter landed at the scene and apprehended the pilot, a Mexican national.
A search of the aircraft revealed 10 bundles of marijuana with an estimated weight of 223 pounds. A 2006 Kawasaki ATV was also found. The pilot, the aircraft, the marijuana and the ATV were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation with the assistance from CBP Air and Marine.
The Air & Marine Operations Center is a state-of-the-art, law enforcement radar surveillance facility that tracks and seeks to identify general aviation aircraft that are inbound to the United States, looking for drug smuggling or terrorist activity.
CBP’s Office of Air and Marine protects the American people and critical infrastructure by using an integrated and coordinated air and marine force to detect, interdict and prevent acts of terrorism arising from unlawful movement of people, illegal drugs and other contraband moving toward or crossing the borders of the United States.
[FOLLOW UP – March 18, 2009] A federal judge in Phoenix sentenced 25-year-old Jesus Isaias Iriarte of Nogales to 33 months in prison on March 17, 2009 after he admited guilt to smuggling.