Crash jet had outdated radar

Five killed as freighter that had been at centre of complaints about lo w-flying hits two homes and crashes in wood
Click to follow
The Boeing 737 that missed a housing estate by feet before crashing yesterday was equipped with outdated landing technology and had been the subject of two complaints about low-flying in the last fortnight.

Flight ACE 702 bound for Coventry Baginton Airport was unable to lock on to the airfield's more advanced equipment that would have allowed the Algerian pilot to land "blind".

Instead, the plane, which had been flying to the airport between two and five times a day for the past month, had to use radar equipment which does not allow air traffic controllers to assess its approach height accurately. It should have been flying at 450ft, but hit an 80ft-high electricity pylon before clipping two houses and crashing upside-down in a wood, killing all five people on board.

Coventry City Council, which owns Baginton airport, confirmed last night that a complaint about the Air Algerie freighter was logged last week. A spokesman for Baginton said a resident had confronted the airport manager about the same aircraft's alleged

low flying a week earlier.

The 737-200's three crew, and two Britons who were animal handlers on the jet, which had been used to transport livestock to the continent after the ban by ferries, were all killed.

The Britons were named last night as Adrian Sharpe, 31, from Kirkthorpe, near Wakefield, and Andrew Yates, 22, from Rugby, Warwickshire.

Witnesses said they saw the aircraft flying level with first-floor windows along Middle Ride, a residential street in Willenhall, before it crashed.

The navigation equipment it carried only allowed it to beam on to radio frequencies of multiples of 50MHZ. Coventry has a frequency which is a multiple of 25MHZ and was therefore unable to lock on to the aircraft to guide it down. Instead, it was guided via surveillance radar, which is a cruder method. More modern aircraft would have more accurate radio equipment.

Last night, a spokesman for Coventry City Council said: "A complaint was received at the airport a week ago. It did relate to the Algerian aircraft."

A week earlier, Evelyn Davis, 66, who lives under the flightpath, said she visited John Reeve, the manager of Baginton airport to complain about the same aircraft.

She said: "Mr Reeve agreed the pilot was coming in too low and said it had shown up on the airport monitor." A spokesman for the airport said Mrs Davis was a regular complainant and Mr Reeve had examined her latest complaint. But he was unable to say if Mr Reeve had agreed that the jet was flying too low.

Much of Coventry lost power for several hours after the crash, but, on the sixth anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster, there was a palpable sense of relief that more people were not killed.

The aircraft crashed at 9.55am after taking off from East Midlands Airport. It had been bound for Coventry from Amsterdam, where it had deposited a cargo of 190 calves, but was re-routed via East Midlands earlier in the morning because of fog.

An air-freight company, Phoenix Aviation, had leased the aircraft from Air Algerie. Phoenix has faced opposition from animal rights groups and Coventry City Council, which has tried to stop its operations as the only firm in Britain that flies live calves to the Continent.

Department of Transport Air Accident Investigation Branch officials were sifting through the wreckage last night and had found both the flight data-recorder and the cockpit voice-recorder. Neither the airport nor the Civil Aviation Authority would say whether the pilot had made a distress call.

Jean Galvin, 34, saw the aircraft hit the pylon before crashing. She said: "It was low but they always are.

"Then suddenly, as it passed over the pylon, the bottom of the plane, about half-way along, just caught the top of the pylon - there was a huge flash and a bang. The cables fell to the ground but the plane carried on. Then there was an almighty explosionand I realised it had come down."

More than 100 firefighters fought the ensuing blaze for more than three hours.

Narrow escape, page 3