Bill and Maya Donnelly were asleep in their home in Nogales, Ariz., close to the U.S.-Mexico border, when a giant thud awakened them. Thinking it was nothing more than late summer thunder, they went back to sleep.
But the next morning, Maya Donnelly discovered that the couple’s carport had a giant hole in its roof, the Nogales International newspaper reported.
A bundle of marijuana, weighing roughly 23 pounds, had crashed through the carport’s roof and landed on a dog kennel, utterly destroying it, according to the Nogales Police Department.
The dog, thankfully, wasn’t inside at the time the cannabis came crashing down.
“It’s all right on top of our dog’s house,” Maya Donnelly told the Associated Press. “It just made a perfectly round hole through our carport.”
The couple reported the package to police, and Nogales Police spokesman Robert Fierros told The Washington Post that the Sept. 8 incident was likely a case of aerial drug smuggling gone wrong. In such cases, one person typically pilots an ultralight aircraft and rigs up a mechanism, like a cage or basket, to transport drugs across the border before the bundles are dropped in remote areas.
“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.”
Authorities believe that the aircraft lost a piece of its load prematurely. Detectives estimated that the dropped bundle has a street value of $10,000 and was likely one of many other bundles attached to the aircraft, Fierros said.
“Someone definitely made a mistake, and who knows what the outcome of that mistake might be for them,” Nogales Police Chief Derek Arnson told AP.
Ultralight aircraft, or ULAs, don’t need to be registered, nor do their pilots need to have an airman or medical certificate, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The single-seat aircraft are only supposed to operate during the daylight hours.
These aircraft are “one of many methods used by smugglers to move drugs across the border,” but a comparatively uncommon one, according to a statement from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection section in Western Arizona.
Known incidents of ultralight aircraft transporting drugs have dropped in recent years, the agency added.
“ULAs normally carry average loads of approximately 200 pounds of marijuana. They have not been known to carry any other cargo other than illegal drugs,” according to CBP. “They typically make a very short single flight originating and terminating in Mexico, dropping the cargo at a pre-arranged site. The Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations work together to locate and seize cargo smuggled by ULAs with frequent successes.”
Authorities have managed to track ultralight aircraft smuggling drugs across the border. In June, Border Patrol agents reported seeing an ultralight flying into Arizona, dropping “several bundles of marijuana over a secluded area before flying back to Mexico.” According to CBP, agents stopped a car leaving the secluded area and found three people and 219 pounds of marijuana inside.
In April, border patrol agents from Yuma, Ariz., detected an ultralight aircraft flying over the Colorado River and into the United States. Authorities found that 231 pounds of marijuana, valued at $115,500, had been dropped into an agriculture field.
Here’s some CPB footage showing an ultralight aircraft that’s suspected of carrying drugs across the border:
As for the Donnellys, they have about $500 worth of repairs to make to their dope-damaged carport — and a new shelter to find for their dog.
“Thank God it didn’t land on our house,” Bill Donnelly told the Nogales International. “Or over one of the kids’ rooms.”
[This post has been updated.]