Security Breach at Hewanorra Raises Serious Questions


Many Saint Lucians were shocked yesterday to learn of the wheelchair-bound passenger who was intercepted with US$468,000 worth of cocaine at JFK International Airport.

According to reports 33-year-old Yoncela Stanley had just landed in New York from St. Lucia this past Sunday on JetBlue flight 886 when Customs officers noticed something was wrong with her wheelchair’s back seat cushion.

Suspicious officers summoned a K-9 unit which alerted them to the possibility of illegal drugs being present. A search of the wheelchair’s seat cushion revealed numerous bricks of cocaine weighing about 27 pounds, officials said.

Authorities in Saint Lucia should be concerned about the repercussions to air travel there due to the hypersensitivity to illegal drugs and terrorism involving flights into the U.S.

Clearly, the motorized wheelchair passenger was not adequately screened which led to the conveyance of the cocaine onto the flight. This highlights the glaring lack of drug or explosives sniffing dogs at our international airport which would make it even more difficult for these incidents to occur.

(Motorized wheelchair screening procedure video)

Even more alarming is the chilling reality that instead of cocaine the contents of the wheelchair seat could have been explosives. What security measure, if any, were used in the screening of that passenger.

Instead of a passenger being arrested for the smuggling cocaine into the U.S. this story could have been much more frightening.

With an economy overwhelmingly dependent on tourism what are local authorities doing to prevent this from happening again, and will this incident cause more rigorous screening of passengers from Saint Lucia upon entry into the U.S.?


  1. Precisely what I’ve been saying all along. But then again having worked at that airport for a few years I know everybody is involved in drug smuggling. From airline staff to customs to redcaps to catering staff. Just imagine this woman was or is an Isis recruit in disguise and instead of cocaine it was explosives????????? I think Hewanorra airport needs to.b downgraded.

  2. I think that security at UVF should be upgraded to be in line with international levels of airport security checks such as the regular use of sniffer dogs during foot patrols (and luggage checks) at the airport among other measures too sensitive to mention here. The thought of downgrading our only international airport because of a security breach is not the way forward as it will have significant economic and social consequences to our economy and tourism product. It is better to build and improve than to downgrade and destroy a travel industry that has served us and the region well. Flights to and from Tobago currently land and take off from UVF and a downgrade would mean that we would lose out on this viable transit hub as there are other international destinations nearby who would grab at the opportunity to replace the service offered at UVF. Let us improve and learn from our mistakes rather than downgrade simply due to one security breach. All airports experience these breaches hence the reason for their ongoing improvements in security. Bilateral technical assistance from receiving airports can also help reduce the transfer of illegal substances by the sharing of their technology and methodologies so that the a proactive approach can be used rather than a reactive one.


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