Two women who allegedly placed their elderly dead relative in a wheelchair and dressed him in sunglasses insisted he was asleep as they tried to check-in for a flight to Germany.
Gitta Jarant and her step-daughter Anke Anusic had successfully convinced a taxi driver that 91-year-old Curt Willi Jarant was well enough for the 45-minute drive to the airport from their home in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
All they needed to do was to get past security at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport.
However, horrified staff at the airport soon noticed that something was seriously wrong with Mr Jarant.
Andrew Millea, an airport worker who greeted the group with a wheelchair, said Mrs Anusic asked for help lifting her elderly father from the car.
" I did my best to help by carefully lifting the man from his seat," he said. "To my horror his face fell sideways against mine, it was ice cold.
"I knew straight away that the man was dead, but they reassured me that he 'always sleeps like that'.
"I could see the driver of the taxi was shocked too, he was white as a sheet and looked very shaken, so I placed the body into the wheelchair and pushed the man to the back of the easyJet queue."
Mr Millea immediately contacted security staff who tried to check the man's pulse, but were ushered away by the two women.
He claimed Mrs Anusic, who was with two children, "encouraged them to 'tell the man that's how your grandad always sleeps'".
When officials established that the man was dead, she asked if she could still board the flight.
Mrs Jarant, wife of the dead man, insisted they had done nothing wrong: "[He was] the best man of the world - a good man.
"I [did not] kill my Willi. My Willi is my god. I [have loved] my Willi for 22 years."
Her daughter-in-law added: "They think that for 24 hours we would carry a dead person? This is ridiculous. He was moving, he was breathing. Eight people saw him."
The police were called and arrested both women, aged 44 and 66, on suspicion of failing to give notification of death. They have since been released on bail until June 1.
Police sources suggested that Mr Jarant, who will eventually be repatriated by more conventional means, had died from natural causes on Good Friday - 24 hours before his arrival at the airport terminal.
Last night it emerged that the trio had booked their £40-a-head tickets with easyJet about a fortnight ago.
Mrs Jarant and Mrs Anusic, both Germans living in Britain, are thought to have decided to press ahead with boarding the 1.25pm flight rather than risk paying up to £5,000 in repatriation fees.
A spokesman for easyJet said staff “were immediately concerned” about the pensioner’s health and as a result decided to call in a first aid team.
Leah Gandy, 22, was working on the easyJet check-in desk when the incident happened. She said: "I've worked at the airport for three years, but this is the most shocking thing I've ever seen.
"I can't believe the lack of respect the two ladies showed for their family member. It sent shivers down my spine when I realised what was going on.
"Fortunately, they had done a good job of disguising the truth and the other passengers did not appear to notice that the man was dead."
Airport sources suggested the matter was uncovered even before the trio had reached the check-in desk.
Once there it would have been impossible for the two women to continue to board the flight.
“The man would have had to hand over his passport to a member of the check-in staff and then answer a number of security questions,” said an easyJet source.
In particular, he would have had to say whether his luggage contained any banned items and whether anyone had packed his bag for him.
“If they’d managed to get that far they would then have had to go through security, pass their bags through the scanners and be asked for their boarding cards.”
The final hurdle would have been to convince easyJet carers specially assigned to wheelchair passengers that all was well.
“A lot of people would have been involved,” said the source. “It just wouldn’t have been possible.”
Even if the trio had got airborne, they would have had to go through a similar process at Berlin Schoenfeld Airport.
An airport source said: “They had him wrapped in a blanket and propped up in a wheelchair wearing sunglasses. The two women insisted he was just asleep.
“They had apparently managed to fool the taxi driver who brought them to the airport, but staff here were immediately suspicious.”
The taxi driver is said to be “upset and devastated” over the incident.
Although there are thought to be no suspicious circumstances, a Home Office pathologist is to carry out a post mortem on the corpse.
Bodies are normally repatriated inside hermetically-sealed zinc-lined coffins and kept in the cargo hold for the duration of the journey.
A spokesman for Rowland Brothers, a firm of funeral directors who specialise in arranging such journeys, said: “I have not heard of anything like this before. It is most bizarre.
“There are rules and regulations to adhere to and documentation to complete before you can transport human remains to a foreign country.”