Man died on plane after drugs burst in stomach

Postmortem finds Brazilian man John Kennedy Santos Gurjao had 0.8kg of suspected cocaine in 80 pellets

Gardaí have started an investigation after a postmortem confirmed a 24-year-old Brazilian man died on board an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin when a consignment of drugs burst in his stomach.

A postmortem by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster confirmed John Kennedy Santos Gurjao had ingested around 0.8kg of suspected cocaine in 80 wrapped pellets. One of the pellets burst and he became ill on the flight from Lisbon to Dublin on Sunday.

Dr Bolster took samples for toxicology tests which are expected to confirm the substance is cocaine and if so, the total quantity of drugs found in Mr Santos Gurjao’s system would have an estimated street value of around €56,000.


Gardaí are liaising with Portuguese and Brazilian police to try to establish Mr Santos Gurjao’s movements and when he might have ingested the drugs prior to boarding flight EI 485 at Lisbon airport. It is believed he was going to study English in Dublin.


Gardaí were also in contact with the Brazilian embassy who, in turn, were in touch with officials in Mr Santos Gurjao’s home city of Boa Vista in northern Brazil, near the border with Venezuela, to inform his family of their son’s death.

The airbus 320-200 series plane had to be diverted to Cork Airport when Mr Santos Gurjao became ill and agitated. Aer Lingus cabin crew had to restrain him with handcuffs before he started to convulse and he then collapsed into unconsciousness.

Performed CPR

A doctor and two nurses who were travelling on the flight attended Mr Santos Gurjao and performed CPR until the plane landed at Cork Airport. HSE paramedics also attended to him at the airport, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Mr Santos Gurjao appeared to be travelling alone but it is understood other passengers pointed out a woman passenger whom he had been with at Lisbon airport. When gardaí spoke to her and searched her luggage, they found 1.8kg of a white powder.

The 44-year-old woman, who was born in Angola but has a Portuguese passport and lives in Dublin, was arrested under drugs trafficking legislation and taken to Togher Garda Station in Cork for questioning.

The powder was sent to the Forensic Science Ireland laboratory at Garda headquarters for analysis, where the woman’s claim that it was baking soda was confirmed.

Gardaí were last night continuing to question her about her relationship with Mr Santos Gurjao and if she knew anything about the drugs he was smuggling into Ireland.

Meanwhile, last night, following the completion of the postmortem examination, gardaí released the Aer Lingus plane which had been declared a crime scene and had been held for a forensic examination by Garda technical experts.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times