A small plane which crashed shortly after takeoff on a flight from a remote airstrip in Papua New Guinea to Australia last week was overloaded with more than 500kg of cocaine, police said on Saturday.
Police from Australia and Papua New Guinea said they had recovered 28 bags of cocaine worth AU$80 million (NZ$86 million) and arrested five suspected drug traffickers connected to the Cessna which came down shortly after takeoff from Papa Lea Lea, north of Port Moresby, on July 26.
The five men were members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate, with alleged links to Italian organised crime, the police said. If convicted, all five face life imprisonment.
"These arrests prove no matter how sophisticated or opportunistic organised crime's attempts are, or the methods they use, law enforcement is keeping pace and causing maximum damage to these criminal ventures," AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney said.
The drugs were carried in 28 bags, and had been flying at a low altitude to avoid detection on radar.
Media in Papua New Guinea reported, citing the police, that it was largest drugs haul by value in Papua New Guinea history.