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Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Suspected drug plane forced to land in Liberal

Five-state chase ends in Kansas with seizure of 162 pounds of marijuana

July 11, 2001

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— After tracking a suspected drug plane across five states Sunday, U.S. Customs Service and Drug Enforcement Agency officials seized 162 pounds of marijuana.

The chase started when officials at Customs' Air-Marine Interdiction Coordination Center noticed a plane flying lower than allowed under visual flight rules near Needles, Calif., according to Customs reports.

Agents from the Tucson Customs Air Branch using a Cessna Citation 550 located the suspect plane, a Piper Arrow, near Flagstaff and began tracking it until they ran low on fuel.

Another Customs aircraft from the Albuquerque Air Branch picked up the chase near Gallup, N.M., and followed the Piper until the Tucson Citation was able to refuel and resume its pursuit near Raton, N.M.

With two Customs aircraft trailing, the suspect plane started a slow descent near Boise City, Okla., then turned northeast, eventually landing in Liberal, Kan.

The Customs planes landed right behind the suspect Piper, and officers started a document check with help from the Seward County Sheriff's Office.

Customs officials said the paperwork contained irregularities and the pilot could not provide proof of ownership, lease or rental for the plane.

During questioning of the pilot, a drug-sniffing dog from the Drug Enforcement Agency's Garden City, Kan., office alerted on the aircraft. After a search warrant was obtained, agents found the marijuana inside.

The Piper was confiscated by Kansas authorities and the pilot Alan S. Luster, 37, of Valencia, Calif. was taken into custody, said Capt. John Hardy of the Liberal Police Department.

A Customs spokesman said the pilot's license had been suspended for felony violations but had been reinstated in May.

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