The Canadian captain of a Pivot Airlines crew held in the Dominican Republic for 120 days says ‘every day is hell’ with no end in sight and says his life is ‘at stake’.
“Without exaggerating at all, I can truly say it’s been hell,” pilot Robert Di Venanzo told CTV News Toronto by phone Thursday. “We have no idea when we’re going home.”
On April 5, Di Venanzo and his crew found over 200 kilograms of cocaine on board a plane he was to fly to Toronto. While grounded at the Punta Cana airport, they reported the narcotics, according to Pivot Airlines.
Instead of returning to Canada as planned, five crew members, along with six passengers, were arrested and detained.
The crew was released on bail later in April, but on the condition that they remain in the Dominican Republic. Since then, Di Venanzo said crew and passengers have been essentially under house arrest, with security monitoring them around the clock.
As difficult as the last four months have been for the band, Di Venanzo says the pain has been “immeasurable” for his wife and two children at home in Guelph, Ont.
The constant threat of prosecution hangs over them, he says. During their last hearing on July 21, the Dominican prosecutor tried to cancel their bail and send them back to prison. While the hearing was adjourned because there was no English translator present, at the next hearing on August 26, he expects another attempt to send them back to jail.
“If they revoke our bail, we’re going to be sent back to the same cells we were in for nine days. We really believe that if we end up going back to detention, we won’t come out alive,” Di Venanzo said.
But until the next hearing, he says it’s a waiting game.
Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson said the airline had no reason to believe Dominican courts would be fair or just when considering sending the crew back to the “dangerous and inhumane” prison.
“For nearly 120 days, they have been arbitrarily detained without any charges or evidence against them. They miss their families, their lives and they continue to receive explicit death threats,” Edmondson said.
“Now is the time for the Canadian government to bring our crew home.”
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Global Affairs Canada said the safety and security of Canadian citizens abroad is always its “first priority”.
“Canadian officials continue to monitor the situation closely, are engaging with local authorities and are providing consular assistance,” a spokesperson said.
However, Global Affairs did not indicate a date or timetable for the return of crew and passengers.