Foreign pilots released after suspicions model plane contained drugs

By Toan Dao   August 20, 2016 | 04:42 pm PT
Foreign pilots released after suspicions model plane contained drugs
Illustrative photo by VnExpress/Kien Cuong
The white powder inside their model planes turned out to be plastic.

Vietnamese authorities on August 19 released two foreign pilots suspected of drug trafficking following a day-long investigation, Vietnamplus reported on August 19, quoting a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.

Tests showed that the white substance found in a 505-gram model plane they were carrying was plastic, not narcotics, Vietnam’s Forensic Science Institute told the state-run daily.

At 11:05 p.m. on August 18, customs officials at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi detected a suspicious package in the luggage of Elmer Ederadan Sorrera, a 45-year-old Filipino, and Francis Dennis Abellera Yutangco, a 53-year-old U.S. citizen.

They said they were pilots for Vietnam’s budget carrier Vietjet Air and were about to board a Cebu Pacific Air flight from Hanoi to Manila in the Philippines.

While checking their luggage, Vietnamese authorities found a model aircraft with white powder inside.

Samples of the powder were sent to Vietnam’s Forensic Science Institute for further analysis after a quick drug test showed that the substance turned the same color as opiates, which meant it could have been opium, heroin or morphine.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, director of Vietnam's Anti-Narcotics Department, confirmed with Channel News Asia (CNA) on Saturday that the substance was not narcotics.

He said no official arrest had been made. "There was suspicion and we invited [the pilots] to stay and work with us to clarify things," Tuan added.

Sorrera told CNA he received the model from his employer as a standard gift for all new pilots, which he was bringing back to Manila for his son.

Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is punishable by death.

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