A man accused over the deaths of 39 migrants who were found in a lorry trailer told jurors he fled the UK later that day because he was “scared”.
Gheorge Nica, 43, denies any role in the deaths of the Vietnamese nationals, who were found in Grays, Essex, on 23 October 2019, the Old Bailey has heard.
He admits some people-smuggling crimes, but said he had been unaware any migrants were in the trailer in Grays.
“I knew it’s going to be a very, very big investigation,” he said.
Mr Nica, who is British-Romanian, added: “I just go home to see my family and kids again.”
He flew from Luton to Romania on the evening of 23 October and was arrested four months later in Germany.
The migrants, aged 15 to 44, suffocated in a sealed trailer en route from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex.
Mr Nica, of Basildon, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, of County Down, deny 39 counts of manslaughter.
Mr Nica told the jury that he thought the shipment was an “expensive load” of tobacco or alcohol.
At about 01:00 on 23 October, people waiting to collect the load began asking him what was going on, he said.
He called lorry driver Maurice Robinson and he seemed to be in a panic – “his breath was like he was running”, Mr Nica told the jury.
“I felt like there was something not right with him.”
He said Mr Robinson did not mention the deaths and then at 01:27, he called Mr Nica.
“He said ‘I have a problem here’,” Mr Nica told the jury.
“‘I have dead bodies on the trailer.’
“When he said that, I said ‘listen, what do you mean dead bodies?’.
“He said ‘yeah there are too many’. He said ‘I don’t know what to do’.
“I said ‘ring the ambulance and ring the police. Don’t move’.”
Mr Nica said he dropped off a hire car he had been using and asked his wife to book him a flight.
Irish haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, and Mr Robinson, 26, have previously admitted manslaughter.
Mr Harrison, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, have denied being part of a wider people-smuggling conspiracy, which Mr Nica has admitted he was involved in.
The trial continues.