An illegal airstrip was unearthed about five kilometres West of Santa Fe, Rupununi, Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) by members of the Guyana Defence Force on Saturday morning.
Chief-of-Staff, Brigadier Patrick West when contacted confirmed the discovery was made by Guyana Defence Force (GDF) ranks that were patrolling the area.
He noted that the ranks were conducting a reconnaissance mission on Saturday morning when they stumbled upon the seeming newly constructed airstrip.
Brigadier West further stated that it was too soon to determine if the airstrip was in use recently, but noted that the relevant authorities were called in to investigate the incident.
However, Public Relations Officer of the GDF, Earl Edghill told Guyana Times that following a closer inspection of the perimeter of the airstrip, several dug out trenches were found. They were covered with black plastic and dried branches.
Upon removing the plastic and branches, several items were found concealed in the holes; including a chain saw and fuel drums. In addition, a quarter drum of aviation fuel was also found at the airstrip.
Edghill also stated that at least 12 abandoned camps were found in close proximity of the airstrip. These camps, he noted, could be those used by farmers over a period of time.
When asked if persons in the farming area indicated to the ranks about hearing the sounds of airplanes landing and taking off, he noted that residents are being questioned and an update will be provided shortly.
In September 2016, a Joint Service patrol discovered an illegal aircraft hidden just off of the Yupukari Airstrip, Rupununi with United States registration N-767-Z.
Subsequently, a team of investigators from the GDF, Guyana Police Force (GPF), Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) and Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) was deployed from Georgetown to the area to conduct investigations and were able to determine that the registration number was fake.
Moreover, investigators had discovered during interviews with nearby residents that the aircraft was sighted circling the area on numerous occasions in the past.
Additionally, a number of residents shared information they deemed as “suspicious activity”, including the presence of motorcycles or ATVs frequenting the area at midnight.
It was reported that a leak was discovered in the fuel tank. This, investigators believe, may have caused the aircraft to land in Guyana.
However, it has been reported that one of the local law enforcement agencies was aware of the aircraft at least three weeks before the disclosure was made. It was reported that the security officials were monitoring the aircraft to see if anyone would return to salvage it.
Meanwhile, President David Granger has established a one-man Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to probe the discovery of the illegal aircraft and appointed retired Brigadier Edward Collins to investigate, examine, advice and report on all aspects under which the foreign aircraft had entered the country.
During the CoI, public meetings were held in several villages including Katoka, Kaicumbay, Yupukari and other villages. The CoI proved that the aircraft entered Guyana illegally.
The illegal twin-engine Cessna aircraft was subsequently flown from Yupukari to Lethem initially, before it was flown to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport where it remains to date. (Bhisham Mohamed)