George Tamba Gbongbor –a prosecuting witness in the on-going trial of seven foreigners and five Sierra Leoneans accused of forcefully landing an aircraft and conspiracy to defeat the course of justice – informed the court on Friday about a call he received from the Permanent Secretary at the Transport Ministry, informing him that there was an accident at the Lungi International Airport.
Led in evidence by the Acting Director of Public Prosecution, Gbongbor, who is the Acting Director of Civil Aviation at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, told the court that he recalled the 13th of July, when he received a missed call from the Permanent Secretary and said, “When I returned the call, he told me there was an accident in Lungi, at the airport..”
The witness told the court that he later joined the PS, the Transport and Aviation Minister and the deputy Director of Civil Aviation, Mr. Badara Ali Mansaray, who is the 11th accused person, and that, he met the 11th accused person, who was very close to an aircraft and asked the 11th accused for briefing in respect of his [accursed] presence at the airport.
The witness told the court that, he was led to a Cessna 441 aircraft by the 11th accused person, and that as Director of Civil Aviation, he went to the Control Tower and requested that communication between the Towers and the aircraft crew be provided.
The witness also told the court that he took a visual inspection of the aircraft and that he realized that the tires were brand new but that he could not gain access into the aircraft since it was sealed.
The witness earlier told the court that, as Director of Civil Aviation, he develops and implements government policies in relation to civil aviation and that his department is responsible for the operation of civil aircraft.
Gbongbor also said there are eight freedoms or privileges of the sky and that every aircraft operating in Sierra Leone must conform to one of these privileges. “The first privilege is for the aircraft to over fly the airspace without landing,” he said. “The second is: The aircraft can land for technical reasons in particular; bad weather, malfunctioning of the aircraft, for fueling reasons…” He added that the other privileges are negotiated by bilateral agreements.
He said, for technical reasons, the aircraft must seek permission before landing and that the crew of an aircraft must contact the air traffic control. Earlier, the defense teams for the accused persons applied for bail for their clients. Lawyer CF. Edwards renewed his application for bail for the 17th accused, stating that the accused persons were innocent and that the charges are mere allegations. Applications were also made for an order from the court to the Prisons Director to allow unhindered access by Lawyers to the accused persons. Lawyer Mohamed Turay, on behalf of the 4th accused person, asked that his client be provided with an eye specialist as he was having problem with his sight. Lawyer Melron Nicol Wilson, on behalf on the 1st accused, applied that his client be allowed access to officers at the American Embassy and that a meal be provided him three times a day.However, the Attorney General Abdul Serry Kamal informed the court that the accused persons were in prison, not a five-star hotel.
Meanwhile, Magistrate Deen Tarawalie refused the bail applications on the grounds that accused persons have before this time been granted bail, only for them to escape. With the accused persons in prisons, he said, the trial would be speedily conducted. The Magistrate also ordered that, an eye specialist be provided for the fourth accused person, in accordance with the provisions of prisons and also that, the first accused person be allowed access to officers at the American Embassy, also in accordance with the provisions of prisons. The matter comes up tomorrow for hearing.
By John Baimba Sesay