Reading like a script for a Hollywood blockbuster, court documents filed in Penticton recount a high-stakes game of cat and mouse that involved nearly 200 kilograms of methamphetamine and played out in the skies over the Similkameen Valley in June.
Details of the incident are spelled out in paperwork filed by police in order to obtain multiple search warrants for a property near Chilliwack, where a helicopter at the centre of the chase is alleged to have eventually landed with an RCMP plane on its tail.
Const. Jared Zeeman of the Osoyoos-based RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime Section explains in the documents his office was alerted in early June by counterparts at the Homeland Security Investigations branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about a planned cross-border drug deal they intended to bust.
HSI agents believed a helicopter from Canada would touch down to pick up a load of drugs June 11 in a heavily wooded area near Winthrop, Wash., and then return to Canada. The landing site is 60 kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border and 110 kilometres south of Princeton.
After setting up surveillance on the landing site in Washington, the HSI agents watched as the pilot of a black helicopter began circling to land, then suddenly reversed course and headed north after apparently spotting the agents.
HSI agents on the ground subsequently arrested two men leaving the landing zone and allegedly found in their possession 188 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, the RCMP had a plane patrolling the north side of the border near Princeton in a bid to intercept the helicopter as it arrived back in Canadian airspace.
Officers finally spotted the helicopter, with no visible markings, parked in a shadow on a remote mountainside in Manning Park about five kilometres north of the Canada-U.S. border.
Soon after, the helicopter lifted off again and tried to shake its tail as it headed west.
“The helicopter took deliberate evasive action, attempting to lose surveillance. The helicopter flew at very low altitudes, near the tops of trees and up narrow draws. It repeatedly changed direction, and made rapid ascents up towards the mountains,” Zeeman wrote.
“The helicopter varied its speed in an attempt to outrun the RCMP aircraft, and slowed down to have the RCMP aircraft overtake it.
“The helicopter appeared to set up to land on two occasions, luring the RCMP aircraft down, then would rapidly ascend towards the mountains.”
About 45 minutes after taking off from the clearing, Mounties watched from above as the helicopter landed at a rural property near Chilliwack.
Searches of the property allegedly turned up 72 long guns, 35 handguns, ammunition, cellphone jammers, U.S. government helicopter decals, drones and currency from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, according to the court documents.
RCMP wouldn’t say this week if anyone has been charged as a result, and referred a request for comment to counterparts at HSI, which has taken the lead on the investigation.
HSI spokesperson Tanya Roman said the investigation turned up an additional 84 kilograms of drugs, bringing to 272 kilograms the total seized.
“This sizeable amount is indicative of the possible involvement of a large and sophisticated smuggling organization,” Roman said in a statement.
“Due to the ongoing investigation and law enforcement sensitivities, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.”
The two men arrested at the Chilliwack-area property are identified in the court documents as Stephen Michaelson and Marty White, who was the alleged pilot. Neither could be reached for comment.
The helicopter, which was eventually found to bear tail number C-FDGK, was last registered to Delta-based Kokanee Helicopters, but the registration was cancelled in May 2019, according to the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register.
In an unrelated July court case in Nanaimo, a judge relying on an RCMP expert report calculated one kilogram of methamphetamine is worth approximately $80,000 if sold in small quantities — typically one-10th of a gram — at the street level.
Based on that, the 188 kilograms of methamphetamine seized near Winthrop could have produced 1.88 million doses and fetched $15 million.