Crash airline had been used by drug smuggler The Coventry aftermath: questions raised over radar safety

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The Independent Online
Drugs with a street value of nearly £170,000 were smuggled into Britain two-and-a-half years ago on a flight operated by Phoenix Aviation, the company whose chartered aircraft crashed near Coventry on Wednesday.

The drugs were found in the possession of Crosby Otobo, a Nigerian pilot who travelled in a Phoenix-operated Boeing 707 aircraft in June 1992. Otobo boarded the Phoenix aircraft in Lagos, Nigeria, intending to travel to Ostend in Belgium.

The aircraft was diverted to Coventry where a Customs officer uncovered a haul of 1.5 kilograms of heroin and half a kilo of cocaine inside Otobo's briefcase. He was charged with two offences of attempting to smuggle class "A" drugs.

No charges were brought against the company or its owners, Christopher Barrett-Jolley and his wife, Maria. Otobo was jailed for eight years in March 1993 with the recomendation that he should be deported when released.

When asked to comment on the case yesterday, Mrs Barrett-Jolley replied: "You worthless piece of shit! Is there no level to which you scum won't stoop to!"

Earlier this year, Mr Barrett-Jolley was taken to court by Lord Guernsey of Packington Hall, Meriden, Warwickshire.

The dispute began in March this year when the Barrett-Jolleys and their son, James, took furnishings with them when they left a 17th-century farmhouse they were renting from Lord Guernsey.

The peer claimed that his former tenant failed to leave behind carpets and curtains as agreed when he moved out of the house where he had lived for nine years.

Mr Barrett-Jolley paid for the fittings at the house on Lord Guernsey's 5,000 acre Packington estate, but Lord Guernsey claimed that Mr Barrett-Jolley had agreed to leave them when he left the house.

In August, a judge ruled that Mr Barrett-Jolley should return the carpets and curtains which were valued by Lord Guernsey at more than £6,000.

The High Court ordered Mr Barrett-Jolley to give back the fittings but they were not returned, and later that month a High Court judge again ruled that they should be returned.

At a second hearing in October, Mr Barrett-Jolley agreed to return them and to pay Lord Guernsey's legal costs, estimated at around £7,000 and £1,500 compensation for items missing at the exchange.

Meanwhile, as air accident investigators continued to examine the wreckage of the Boeing 737 yesterday, it emerged that the pilots, who were killed in Wednesday's crash, were operating in virtually the minimum visibility allowed for a landing using radar, leaving little margin for error.

According to Civil Aviation Authority officials, the aircraft - which was unable to use the more sophisticated instrument landing system that is now the industry norm because it did not have the right radio equipment - would have been allowed to land with a minimum of 1,100 metres forward visibility.

In fact, Coventry Airport reported that visibility at the time of the accident was 1,200 metres.

An experienced Boeing 737 pilot who has worked for Air Algerie said that he was amazed that the aircraft was allowed to use the airport without the proper ILS equipment.

He said: "Approaches using surveillance radar are much more difficult.

"Obviously, the pilots have to fly the plane themselves rather than using the autopilot and these guys, who had already done a night flight to Amsterdam, would have been exhausted."

Most modern aircraft now use ILS, which allows blind landings in foggy conditions by using different radio signals to line the aircraft up laterally and along a three-degree descent path - the aircraft has a height of 300 feet for every mile from the airport.

Some pilots suggest that aircraft using ILS should be banned, but the CAA has a policy of not imposing safety rules in Britain which are onerous than the world norms as this would restrict the number of aircraft to enter British airspace.

Yesterday, as investigators continued their task of trying to identify the cause of Wednesday's crash close to the Willenhall estate in Coventry, the bodies of the five victims were removed from the wreckage.