Marijuana falling from the sky? That’s a wonderful thing. Twenty-three pounds of marijuana falling from the sky? That’s more like a nightmare.
Two Nogales, Ariz., residents, Bill and Maya Donnelly, woke on the night of Sept. 8 to a loud thud. They assumed it was thunder and returned to sleep. But the next day, they found a giant hole in the roof of their carport and their dog kennel crushed by a 23-pound bundle of cannabis that apparently fell from the clouds.
The bundle, dropped from a drone or ultralight aircraft smuggling drugs across the Mexican border, crashed through the carport’s roof and completely destroyed the kennel, the Nogales Police Department said.
The errant cannabis didn’t hit anyone, and the family dog wasn’t in the kennel at the time of the crash, police said. The dog and family are doing fine, Maya Donnelly told the Associated Press.
“It’s all right on top of our dog’s house,” Donnelly said. “It just made a perfectly round hole through our carport.”
A failed smuggling operation
The Donnellys called the police to report the damage, and Nogales officers confiscated the marijuana. A department spokesman, Robert Fierros, told The Washington Post the cannabis probably fell off a privately owned ultralight during a botched smuggling operation.
Fierros said Mexican drug smugglers frequently attach baskets or cages containing marijuana to drones and ultralights, and then fly them across the border to remote drop sites in the United States. Ultralight and unmanned aircraft are playing an increasingly large role in marijuana smuggling.
“We’ve seen ultralight activity used to drop narcotics within town,” Fierros said. “When we have been able to see or catch it, it’s more on the outskirts or further north toward the next town, not in a well-lit, residential area. This case in particular is unique for that reason.”
Worth $10,000 in street value
Cops said they thought the Arizona drone dropped some of its load prematurely. They valued the lost drugs at about $10,000 on the street, but said there were probably other bundles carried by the aircraft that got away.
“Someone definitely made a mistake, and who knows what the outcome of that mistake might be for them,” said Nogales Police Chief Derek Arnson.
Like drones, ultralights are only lightly regulated by the FAA. Pilots don’t need to register their aircraft or obtain certification, though they’re only allowed to fly during daylight hours.
Officials at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office for Western Arizona said ultralights are “one of many methods used by smugglers to move drugs across the border.” Still, they said the scheme is relatively uncommon.
And the numbers are dropping. Reported sightings of marijuana-running ultralights have dropped over the past few years.
Ultralights “normally carry average loads of approximately 200 pounds of marijuana,” the customs agency said. “They have not been known to carry any other cargo other than illegal drugs. They typically make a very short single flight originating and terminating in Mexico, dropping the cargo at a prearranged site. The Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations work together to locate and seize cargo smuggled by (ultralights) with frequent successes.”
Unmanned drones used for smuggling into prisons
Police have ramped up their efforts to stop cannabis smuggling by ultralight and drone. Unmanned drones are proving a particular problem, and have been used to sneak cannabis, tobacco, and other contraband into prisons across the United States.
If what happened to the Donnellys is any indication, law enforcement isn’t having much of an impact. The couple are just glad theirs was a near-miss, even if it will cost them $500 to fix their carport and replace the dog house.
“Thank God it didn’t land on our house,” Bill Donnelly said. “Or over one of the kids’ rooms.”