The video is grainy and shaky in night vision green and black, but it captures a brazen smuggling technique used by Mexican drug cartels to get bales of marijuana across the border undetected by authorities.
"This is remarkable,"said former DEA agent Jim Molesa, who is now the chief deputy in the Navajo County Sheriff's Office.
CBS 5 Investigates showed the video to Molesa. It took three years of repeated requests to obtain the video from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Customs and Border Protection agents captured the images on camera three years ago, while patrolling the border near Nogales.
The video shows an ultralight aircraft flying low across the border to avoid detection from radar. The aircraft drops down to just above the tree line and drops what appears to be two bales of marijuana to the ground. Several people on the collect the bales and drag them to a waiting vehicle. That vehicle then drives away.
It is unclear whether the video led to any arrests. ICE agents would not comment about it. But during the three years it took to obtain the video, the agency repeatedly told CBS 5 Investigates that the investigation was ongoing.
Using ultralights to carry drugs across the border is a technique that has been used for years. But actually capturing an operation on video, as it happens, is something that has rarely, if ever been done before.
Despite the brazenness of the operation, ICE officials say they do not see many ultralight smuggling efforts along the Arizona and Mexico border these days. One reason may be the economics involved in smuggling.
"They're a business. They have a profit margin they're concerned about. An ultralight only can carry a certain amount," said Molesa.
But Molesa said it's possible that airborne smuggling operations will resume in force, to bring across the types of illegal drugs that do not require such a high volume to make money. Cocaine, meth and heroin are three examples.
A report released by the California Attorney General's Office in March indicated that ultralights will continue to be a factor in smuggling operations, but as drone technology improves, unmanned aerial vehicles may be the next adaptation the drug cartels pursue.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
Tuesday, July 29 2014 9:20 AM EDT2014-07-29 13:20:26 GMT
U.S. Marshals are joining the manhunt for an Arizona inmate who escaped from a central Arizona jail.More >
U.S. Marshal David Gonzales of the Arizona District said Thursday that federal agents will work with local officials to locate Wade Cole Dickinson, who escaped from the Camp Verde Detention Center at around 2:30 p.m. on July 12.More >
They were born just two weeks apart. A 10-week-old baby and 8-week-old pit bull have a fascinating relationship. They absolutely adore each other! Louisiana native Brandi Hodges, 25, has posted photosMore >
A 10-week-old baby and 8-week-old Pitbull have a fascinating relationship. They absolutely adore each other!More >
Tuesday, July 29 2014 9:38 AM EDT2014-07-29 13:38:06 GMT
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is asking for a temporary restraining order on the office of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to keep MCAO from investigating allegations of campaign mismanagement.More >
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is asking for a temporary restraining order on the office of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.More >
Tuesday, July 29 2014 9:53 AM EDT2014-07-29 13:53:10 GMT
Change is in the wind for the quiet border town of San Luis, AZ. The farming community may soon be home to a massive solar wind tower.More >
Change is in the wind for the quiet border town of San Luis, AZ. The farming community may soon be home to a massive solar wind tower - the sheer enormity of which would make it a new Arizona landmark.More >