The Methow Valley State Airport is generally a sedate place, handling just a few flights a day. But last Wednesday (Nov. 20), federal agents in helicopters pursued an airplane that entered the U.S. from Canada and made an unauthorized landing at the state airport in Winthrop.
Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) in Bellingham first detected the airplane and tracked it to Winthrop. When agents approached the pilot to question him, he jumped into his airplane and flew away, according to a press release from Customs and Border Protection.
As the AMO agents pursued the airplane in helicopters, they saw the pilot toss several bags out of the plane into the wilderness, according to the press release.
AMO received permission to continue the pursuit across the border. The helicopters followed the plane to the airport in Langley, British Columbia, where the pilot landed and was arrested by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police border-enforcement team and provincial and local officials. The AMO helicopters hovered overhead to keep watch while the Canadian agents seized the plane.
In 2019, AMO seized or disrupted almost 285,000 pounds of cocaine, 102,000 pounds of marijuana, 51,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 935 weapons, and $34.1 million. They made 1,575 arrests and apprehended more than 52,000 people without legal documentation to be in the U.S., according to the press release.
The Methow Valley airport is the largest of the 16 airports operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The Winthrop airport accommodates mainly small private aircraft and commercial flights for skiers. It serves as an important base for smokejumpers, helicopters and other aircraft during wildfire season, State Airports Manager Paul Wolf said.