New Mexico State Police are investigating a Monday night "controlled crash" of a plane filled with more than 400 pounds of marijuana.
NMSP Lt. Cleo Baker said the plane landed in a field south of Tucumcari. The pilot, identified as a 34-year-old man from Louisville, Ky., was traveling to an unknown location when he landed the fixed wing plane on ranch land a half mile off of State Road 209 in Quay County, according to an NMSP press release.
Baker said no arrests have been made.
The land 14 miles south of Tucumcari, where the crash occurred, belongs to rancher Gerald Hight, said Quay County Sheriff Joe Schallert.
“Gerald told me he heard, then saw a plane flying low over his home with their landing gear down and no lights on,” Schallert said.
Schallert said the plane continued eastbound from Hight’s house toward state Highway 209. He said the plane then turned around and crashed in a field 500 yards from Hight’s home.
“It was a controlled crash,” Schallert said. “The landing gear had collapsed under the plane.”
Schallert said Hight and his son drove out to the crash to see if anyone needed help. He said two men were walking around the plane and asked for a ride into town.
“Gerald said there were a lot of duffel bags behind the front seats of the plane but he did not think anything about it at the time,” Schallert said. “He is very fortunate that the two men did not harm them.”
Schallert said Hight gave the two men a ride to a motel in Tucumcari and noticed they began to act suspicious. After dropping them off at the motel, Hight parked his vehicle and watched as the two men left to a second motel across the street, the sheriff said.
“That prompted Gerald to call central dispatch who then contacted me,” Schallert said. “One of my deputies made contact with one of the men and he was acting suspiciously.”
Schallert said the man told his deputy he was a hitchhiker and had no idea about a plane or any crash. Officials said they have been unable to locate the second man.
Schallert said he and State Police Officers Chester Bobbit and Mark Jackson went to the scene of the crash and could smell a strong odor of marijuana coming from the plane. He said the plane was searched after police obtained a search warrant.
Officials said they found 377 pounds of marijuana in the plane and nearly 50 pounds more hidden in nearby bushes. They also located a cell phone in the area.
The street value of the seized marijuana is estimated at $512,000. The narcotics and plane were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Agency for federal prosecution.