I was on one of my day trips into the Big Cypress Swamp, exploring in an area, that at the time, I had not ever been into. It was the dry time of the year and I traveled from an area called Monument Lake, following a dirt road called Monument Road. Several miles into the swamp, this road turns to the north-west and another branch of the road, called Sand Road starts heading to the north-east. I followed the north-west road, until I reached a point that a heavily used trail headed north. I followed this trail through some cypress swamps and it soon opened up into a large prairie. Out on this prairie in the distance I could see a white object. As I got closer, I realized it was an airplane, not a little airplane, but a large 4 engine plane. I was astounded, what was an airplane doing out in the middle of the swamp?
There was a man with a Land Cruser and a trailer parked at the plane. He was busily cutting the motor mounts on one of the engines with a hack saw. One of the engines was already sitting on his trailer. I asked the guy to tell about the airplane. He wasn't real talkative, but said it was a drug plane that had landed out here about a month ago. Since no one was coming forward to claim the plane, (for obvious reasons) he was taking the engines to sell them. I asked him if the drug enforcement people knew about the plane and he said "yeah! but they lost interest in staking it out, about a week ago". It would be several years, before I would piece together this much of the story.
The story that I have put together by talking to different people that go into that area is that the plane was full of marijuana. As it was heading into US airspace, a drug surveillance plane had spotted it and was following it. Now either the drug planes pilot discovered he was being followed or the plan was to land in the remote swamp anyway, to off load it. Either way, the pilot landed (control crashed) the plane out in this big open prairie. The drug surveillance plane, not being able to land, buzzed the drug plane on the ground, so the occupants would know they were spotted. If their plan was to scare them away from the plane, it worked. The whole load of marijuana was on the plane when the law enforcement people managed to arrive at the drug plane. The occupants though were long gone. I have talked to camp owners that told me about being stopped in the middle of the woods at gun point by law enforcement people. This was during the days following the drug landing. They say they were questioned completely about who they were and what they were doing out in the swamp. Everyone that I have talked to, said the pilot and any others involved were never found.
This pilot was good. I went up the prairie to where the wheels first touched down. I have a little flying experience in small planes and I was impressed. The wheels touched down evenly, slowly depressing the soft ground as the air speed diminished. When almost the full weight of the plane was on the wheels, they were digging into the ground about a foot. You could then see where the nose wheel started to depress the ground. This was just behind where the airplane was sitting. The nose wheel started depressing the ground about a foot deep, when it came to a coral rock ledge, sitting right at ground level. This sheared off the nose wheel and just beyond that you could see the depression of the whole nose of the airplane on the ground. This depression was only about 20 feet long, so the pilot almost had the plane stopped when it lost its nose wheel. Anyone that has ever made a soft field landing in an airplane would tell you that this guy must have been an excellent pilot to put down that big plane in that soft prairie. He would have made it perfect except for that coral rock outcropping.
This airplane sat out in that prairie for many years. It of course took a beating. Someone soon after I saw it, started a fire in it and burned the nose off of it. I don't know how many times over the years it was shot by someone. The Big Cypress Preserve people eventually cut it up and hauled it out of the prairie. Even though today you can find a piece of it here and there out in that prairie. This prairie on the maps is called Windmill Prairie, but everyone with camps in that area always refer to it as "Airplane Prairie".
After camp Six Pack was founded, we used to pass through Airplane Prairie on our way to camp. When ever we traveled to camp at night, we were careful about approaching any strangers we saw in the swamp. We could never be sure we were not happening upon another delivery. The Big Cypress Swamp was and still is a wild place. The drug dealers added another dimension to our feelings of the wildness of the Big Cypress Swamp.
this story written December 1, 2000 by Steve