The 1,349 kilograms on the plane represented the largest cocaine seizure ever in eastern Pennsylvania, according to authorities.
Investigators said ringleaders of the operation were to deliver the cocaine in return for a $5 million payment from a Colombian drug cartel, which held one member of the ring as "human collateral" to ensure delivery. The man, Nelson Diaz, 26, was later released and is now in federal custody.
The twin-propeller plane, refurbished with sophisticated navigation electronics and extra fuel tanks, landed in Allentown after it apparently ran low on fuel on its way to the remote drop site, investigators said.
Among those indicted were seven men who set up a "communications base camp" in the Nova Scotia woods to receive, then distribute the cocaine.
The five-month investigation took agents from seven federal and state agencies, plus the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, across two continents and three countries, authorities said. The indictment named U.S. pilots, off- loaders and investors from two states and Canada.
Fifteen of the 18 suspects are in custody in four states and Canada, awaiting extradition to Philadelphia. Warrants have been issued for the arrests of the other three defendants.
The operation began to unravel Sept. 21 with an emergency, lights-out landing in the rain at the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Airport just before midnight.
An airport security officer went out meet to the plane after the pilot of a small plane reported a near-miss with the DC-3, which was flying below radar and without landing lights, said Lt. Col. Francis Lynch of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Authorities said the plane's co-pilot, Richard Anker, 39, of Key Largo, Fla., was later arrested in Florida. But the pilot and alleged mastermind of the operation, William James McGoldrick 3d, 46, of Miami, was still at large, investigators said. A passenger, Harold Norman Hill, 47, a Canadian named in the indictment, was arrested as he tried to scale an airport fence.
"The plane's landing was a little bit of serendipity for the good guys, and an unfortunate accident for the bad guys," U.S. Attorney Michael M. Baylson said yesterday. He said subsequent information gathered in Allentown, Canada, Colombia and several states fit together "just like a tight-fitting jigsaw puzzle."
Most of the cocaine probably would have been taken overland into the Northeastern United States if it had arrived in Canada, investigators said.
The indictment described an operation that raised cash from investors in Canada, Michigan and Florida to help pay for renovations to the DC-3 and for sophisticated communications equipment at the Nova Scotia base camps. The money also went for travel expenses and for parachutes and duffel bags for the cocaine, the indictment said.
The defendants did not buy or sell the cocaine but merely served as ''independent contractors" to ship the drugs, one investigator said.
The organizers negotiated with a Colombian cartel to be paid about $5 million to deliver the cocaine, the indictment said. It said the three main investors expected to receive a 10-to-1 return on their investments, which investigators estimated at roughly $400,000 to $500,000.
Sam Billbrough, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia, put the wholesale value of the seized cocaine at $40 million and the retail, or street, value at $150 million to $200 million.
The cocaine, packed in one-kilo packages in 26 duffel bags, was 70 percent to 95 percent pure, said Thomas R. Terry, a DEA special agent in Allentown.
The seven men who set up camp in Nova Scotia expected to receive $250,000, authorities said. They said the men set up in a trailer deep in a forest, using cellular telephones and vehicles to arrange to collect, store and distribute the cocaine.
The Mounties learned of the men after local people phoned to report ''suspicious activity" in the woods, said Inspector Edward Spaans of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Spaans said he connected the men to the DC-3 after learning of the Allentown seizure.
Some of the men were already under surveillance by the Mounties after they had been arrested and fined for possessing small amounts of marijuana, Spaans said. He said the marijuana was found as some of the men entered Canada on a ferry from Maine in mid-September.
Billbrough said the plane took off from Miami to Colombia to load up with cocaine. Leaving Diaz behind as collateral, McGoldrick, Anker and Hill flew the DC-3 north over the Dominican Republic.
The plane later veered far out over the Atlantic before turning west in an attempt to refuel at an airport in Sullivan County, N.Y., which was closed for the night, Billbrough said. Concerns about low fuel - despite the extra fuel tanks - apparently forced the pilot to land in Allentown, Billbrough said.
Several of the defendants have previous convictions for narcotics trafficking, Billbrough said. He declined to say whether any of those in custody have cooperated with investigators.
If convicted, the 18 face life sentences and up to $4 million each in fines.
The indictment named as "planners" McGoldrick, Anker and Hipolito ''Polo" Cruz-Pagan, 44, of Miami. Defendant Diaz, 26, of Winter Park, Fla., was named as "human collateral."
Named as investors were Kenneth Herman, 38, of Willowdale, Ontario; Freddie Fountain, 44, of Miami, and Nelson Schindler, 52, of Bay City, Mich.
Named as offloaders were Jack Daniel Malone, 32, of Miami; John Korth, 37, of Appleton, Wis.; Randy Mullins, 39, and Lloyd Willis, 44, both of Columbus, Ohio; Paul Hastrieter, 24, of Rhinelander, Wis., and Ruben Cenal, 22, and Luis Quintero, 22, both of Miami.
Also named in the indictment was the owner of the DC-3, Wayne Daniell, 39, of Hialeah, Fla., and plane passenger Hill, 47, of Brantford, Ontario; Kenneth Richard Meyers, 37, of Oakville, Ontario, and Robin Biggs, 40, of Don Mills, Ontario.
In addition to McGoldrick, defendants Fountain and Biggs are being sought under federal arrest warrants.