FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — A passenger plane loaded with 1,540 pounds of cocaine was found abandoned at Sierra Leone's main airport Sunday, police said.

Airport officials discovered the craft, which was registered to a South American country, along with a handful of guns apparently left behind by a two-man crew before dawn, said Francis Munu, a police official in the capital.

Munu said police had organized a search party to try to find the pilots of the plane.

With cocaine prices in Europe surging ahead of prices in the United States, drug smugglers in South America are increasingly ferrying cocaine to West Africa, from where it is parceled out to hundreds of individual traffickers who carry it north.

Major seizures have been made in Guinea-Bissau and Ghana, and it is widely believed that other countries along the coast are also being used by drug runners.