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Five crew members with Toronto-based Pivot Airlines that have been held in the Dominican Republic for seven months are finally free to return home to Canada.
The crew — which includes two pilots, two flight attendants, and a mechanic — were “arbitrarily detained” in the Dominican Republic back in April, after reporting suspected contraband on their aircraft — a Bombardier CRJ 100 (C-FWRR). The crew were preparing for a return flight to Toronto, when the mechanic found several suspicious bags in the avionics bay, and reported his findings to the pilots.
The pilots made the appropriate call to report the bags, which contained more than 200 kilograms of cocaine, to Dominican authorities. Despite being fully compliant, they were arrested, and have been unable to leave the country ever since.
In an effort to bring the crew home, Pivot has been working with the Air Line Pilots Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as the Canadian government and Dominican authorities. After a motion was filed on Aug. 31 to dismiss the case “fundamentally on the lack of evidence,” a deal was finally reached on Nov. 11 to allow the crew to come home.
In a statement, Pivot CEO Eric Edmondson said that paperwork has been filed “to free the five Pivot crew members who have been detained in the Dominican Republic for 220 days.”
He added: “We are deeply relieved that these five Canadians will soon return home to their families and loved ones.”
When the crewmembers were initially detained in April, they faced extremely inhumane conditions, and received death threats from narcotraficantes who were under the impression that the crew were informants against a drug cartel.
The crew were released on bail in late April, but only under the condition that they remain in the Dominican Republic. For security reasons, Pivot arranged for the crew to live in a “safe house” in a gated community.
Pivot captain Rob Di Venanzo said being held in the Dominican for the last seven months, away from loved ones and with “constant uncertainty,” has been “the most difficult thing any of us have ever experienced.”
“Even though we have paid an unimaginable price, we know we did the right thing by reporting those drugs seven months ago,” Di Venanzo added.
While the paperwork to free the crew has officially been filed, it is still unclear when they will be able to return home to Canada. Pivot said the Dominican authorities must still go through a process to grant the “necessary government documentation and approvals to fly the crew home.”
Considering the fact that the case has seen significant delays and uncertainty from the beginning, Edmondson said there is a “very real potential for unforeseen delays.” As such, there is no timeline yet for the crew’s return home.
“We are urging the Dominican Republic authorities to begin the process of releasing the crew without delay,” said Edmondson.