PIA’s plane caught in London with drugs

  • Crew reportedly detained for eight hours, released
  • PIA spokesman says plane flew with new crew

(By Rabia Malik) A large amount of heroin was seized from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) PK-785 in an intelligence-based operation on Tuesday.

A source privy to development told Pakistan Today, on anonymity, that the crew members of PIA PK-785, including pilot Captain Hamid Gardezi, copilot Sikandar Khan, flight purser Shamshad Agha, Shama Zubari, Tanvir Fatima, M Shajeel, Imran Khan, Atif Ali Qureshi, B Bilal Baakza, Neelofar Zulfiqar Memon, Nazneen Iqbal, Mehwish Jahan, Sana Iqbal, Munaza Yasmeen, Sana Nasim, and Sadia Kanwal, were detained for eight hours at the Heathrow Airport by the customs based on information that drugs were being smuggled through the aircraft with the likelihood of some crew members being involved.

The plane had arrived from Karachi to London.

The London customs during a strip search of the aircraft found heroin hidden in the aircraft. Crew baggage was searched, each member, including the pilot, was interrogated. The customs allowed them to leave the airport after taking their fingerprints; however, the police have confiscated their passports which will be released after forensic investigations.

There is a standard operating procedure which requires thorough checking of an aircraft’s interior and cargo holds by a joint team of customs, ASF, ANF, concerned airline technical staff. Sniffer dogs are also used by the ANF and ASF to detect any hidden drugs then the certificate is submitted to a captain before departure.

In case the airline crew is involved they are mostly serving as carriers, while powerful drug mafia dons who are real culprits will most likely manage to get away through their contacts in the corruption infected-agencies deputed at the airport.

There have been numerous cases where shopkeepers and restaurant owners within the transit lounge are involved in organised money laundering and smuggling. However, despite their involvement in such nefarious crimes, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has not cancelled their contracts.

According to the source, at the Lahore Airport, one such person known as Teefu Butt owns numerous outlets in the international transit lounge and has been implicated in many such cases, where investigations have revealed the involvement of his staff in money laundering, gold and drug smuggling. These prohibited items are handed over to carriers after they have been scanned by security and customs in the transit lounge so that they can board the aircraft without any detection.

Teefu Butt was also allegedly involved in the murder of notorious Truckanwala gangster who was killed in a car park after he arrived from Dubai.

According to details, Captain Hamid Gardezi, the pilot of the flight, has a history of violating air safety rules.

In 2015, the highly influential pilot violated air safety rules and flew an aircraft for more than the limit prescribed by the regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) putting lives of hundreds of passengers at risk; however, no punitive action was taken against him.

Pilot Captain Hamid Gardezi is a relative of Aviation Division Secretary Mohammad Ali Gardezi, who owing to his post oversees not only the PIA but also the CAA, the aviation regulator.

In 2010, the pilot flew his friend to London without ticket and boarding card bypassing all formalities.

Captain Hamid is said to be a close friend of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and former President Asif Ali Zardari.

Crew members were not detained: PIA

A spokesperson for PIA said that the crew members were not detained. According to the spokesperson, the 13 crew members had finished their duties after flying from Karachi to London. They were never scheduled to fly on PK-785 from London to Lahore in the first place, the spokesperson added.

According to the spokesperson, PK-758 landed in Lahore earlier accompanied with a new crew. The original crew stayed back in London after its duty had ended, as per schedule, the spokesperson claimed.

The spokesperson further added that passports of the crew members had been returned.

PIA management in London was trying to find out reasons behind the searching of the plane and reports of detention, he added.