By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A small plane which crashed shortly after takeoff on a flight from a remote airstrip in Papua New Guinea to Australia last week was overloaded with more than 500 kg (1,100 lb) of cocaine, police said on Saturday.
Police from Australia and Papua New Guinea said they had recovered 28 bags of cocaine worth A$80 million ($57 million) and arrested five suspected drug traffickers connected to the Cessna which came down shortly after takeoff from Papa Lea Lea, north of Port Moresby, on July 26.
The five men were members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate, with alleged links to Italian organised crime, the police said. If convicted, all five face life imprisonment.
“The AFP (Australian Federal Police) alleges greed played a significant part in the syndicate’s activities and cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane’s ability