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From left to right, Christina Carello, Bal Krishna (BK) Dubey, Aatif Safdar, Alexander Rozov, Cpt. Robert DiVenanzo in the Dominican Republic.Pivot Airlines

A Canadian airline crew is pleading for urgent help from Ottawa after being detained and now forced to remain in the Dominican Republic for nearly two months since reporting contraband on board their aircraft.

Five Pivot Airlines crew members and seven passengers were scheduled to return to Canada from Punta Cana on a chartered aircraft on April 5, but instead were placed behind bars after the crew alerted authorities to what would later be identified as 200 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside the plane.

Two crew members who spoke with The Globe and Mail from the Dominican Republic said they were subject to inhumane conditions in jail with little access to water or food. The group has been granted bail but is barred from leaving the country. The airline says it has hired 24/7 armed security over concerns for their safety.

Canadian airline crew detained in Dominican Republic urges Ottawa for safe return after drug seizure

Pivot Airlines, which has sought legal counsel to represent the crew, said there is no evidence to connect its staff to the cocaine. Meanwhile, local prosecutors are attempting to appeal the court’s bail decision but it is unclear when the hearing will take place. Eric Edmondson, chief executive officer of the airline, said an investigation could take up to a year.

Passengers and the crew went separate ways after being conditionally released. The passengers are also being prevented from leaving the Dominican Republic and the family of at least one passenger is calling on Ottawa to get involved.

“Time is their friend and is our enemy,” said Mr. Edmondson. “Threats to the [crew’s] safety haven’t subsided, in fact they continue to ebb and flow but generally escalate, and there is no sense of an active investigation.”

Flight mechanic Bal Krishna Dubey, 42, said he was going through routine checks on that April day before coming across suspicious bags in a hard-to-access part of the aircraft. He immediately reported it to the pilot, who then notified Canadian authorities. Dominican officials, who were also alerted, later searched the aircraft with sniffer dogs before taking the group into custody, said Mr. Dubey.

“I’ve never been punished for doing my duty.”

He spent the next nine days in what he described as a cell no larger than 15 by 8 feet with his male co-workers and about 20 other men. Mr. Dubey said “it was hell” with repeated threats from inmates who he said would use a cellphone to show videos of dead people or translate threats from Spanish to English.

Sleeping was almost impossible in the prison, he said, with no option other than to lie on the concrete floor or stand up when no space was available. He said some of the inmates would force them to spend hours in the toilet area where people urinated or defecated in a hole in the floor.

Christina Carello, 32, the only female crew member, was sent to a separate women’s detention centre. She said she was strip searched and then placed in a cell that was about five by five feet with a dozen other women. Like Mr. Dubey, Ms. Carello described sleeping in the bathroom area or on concrete.

“It was a struggle. You were taking a shower with bucket water. You had to deal with people telling you to give them money for cleaning supplies or for water when you don’t have your own money,” she said. “You’re also trying not to make problems with anyone there because you don’t want to end up in a fight or something happen. So, it’s scary the thought that we could have to go back.”

Now the group is essentially on house arrest, with risks to their safety ongoing. The message from the airline and its crew to the Canadian government is simple – bring them home.

“We are not safe here,” said Mr. Dubey.

Mr. Edmondson said it is “unfathomable” that the government hasn’t stepped in to repatriate the Canadian crew members. “We’re not asking the government to interfere with the legal system. We’re not asking them to extract them from any process that they have to undertake. What we want is due process, but we want them to have that due process in a safe environment,” he said.

A private investigative firm has been hired by the airline. Mr. Edmondson said the firm has a “pretty clear picture” of what happened but said he couldn’t specify because of the ongoing case. The crew members said they are unsure how the cocaine got on the aircraft but said the aircraft was parked in an open-access bay for days before they were set to return to Canada.

Jason Kung, a spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada, said the government is aware of the situation.

“Canadian officials continue to monitor the situation closely, are engaging with local authorities and providing consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”

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