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Athens News Agency: News in English, 05-08-15

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Probe deepens after black boxes found in Greece's worst air disaster

  • [01] Probe deepens after black boxes found in Greece's worst air disaster

    Two flight recorders were retrieved from the wreckage of a Cypriot airliner that plunged into a hillside near Athens, leaving no survivors among the aircraft's 121 passengers and crew, authorities said on Monday.

    Grief-striken relatives of Cypriots who died a day earlier on the Boeing B737 operated by Helios Airways arrived in Athens to identify the remains, described by coroners as frozen but charred on the surface and often damaged beyond recognition in Greece's worst air disaster.

    Experts have speculated that the aircraft may have suffered one or more malfunctions involving compression, oxygen and cooling systems in both the cockpit and cabin. Cyprus-based Helios denies allegations that the same aircraft had displayed a similar fault in the past or had failed a pre-flight inspection.

    The flight recorders carrying operational flight and voice data will be sent to a Paris laboratory but authorities said the black box containing the pilots' conversations was severely damaged and may offer few clues. A Greek accidents expert taking part in enquiries said the probe would take at least 10 days.

    Media reported that a passenger aboard the ill-fated flight had sent a mobile phone text message to relatives complaining of an "Artic chill" in the cabin with people starting to turn blue from the cold.

    Greece's government says no evidence has emerged of terrorism or foul play, and has flatly rejected media speculation that two air force fighter jets sent to escort the rogue aircraft had been ordered to shoot down the plane on terrorist fears.

    Authorities have confimed that most passengers were Cypriot and the remainder Greek, while the aircraft captain was German. Among the dead were 12 children aged four and above, the health ministry said.

    The airliner fell shortly after noon on Sunday in Grammatiko, an uninhabited area northeast of the capital, on a flight from Larnaca to Prague via Athens. The crash ignited a wildfire, spreading through scrubland. Charred bodies were scattered amid broken parts of the plane spread over a wide radius. The aircraft's tail was detached from the fuselage and mostly intact.

    Firefighters and rescue teams battled flames and billowing smoke at the site as military helicopters patrolled overhead.

    Crew had notified Cypriot authorities of a fault in the aircraft's air conditioning unit on approaching Greek airspace, but made no contact with Greek air traffic controllers on entry. Civil aviation authorities alerted the air force in line with anti-terrorism measures.

    Two F-16 fighter jets located the aircraft in the southern Aegean, but calls for identification went unheeded and the plane appeared to be out of control.

    Flying at close quarters, air force officers saw that the aircraft's co-pilot had collapsed over the controls, and the captain could not be seen through the cockpit window. Overhead oxygen masks in the cabin section had dropped into place, a government spokesman said.

    After reporting the aircraft as "renegade", or unidentified and out of control, the pilots tracked the airliner at about 38,000 feet until it began to lose height and slammed into a hillside.

    In Cyprus, the managing director of Helios Airways, Dimitris Pantazis said that experts from the Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, would travel to Athens to help with enquiries. The US ambassador in Athens noted that it was standard practice for American manufacturers to visit the scene of a disaster when their products were involved.

    Headquartered in Larnaca, Helios was founded in 1999 as the island republic's first private carrier. It was acquired in 2004 by the Libra Holiday Group, a major UK tour operator.

    PM cuts short holiday, holds barrage of meetings

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who cut short a long holiday weekend on the island of Tinos, has held two days of back-to-back meetings with Greek and Cypriot ministers in Athens to handle the aftermath of the disaster and monitor the probe into its cause.

    Karamanlis, who declared Tuesday a national day of mourning for the tragedy, has also conferred by telephone with Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, who welcomed the response by Greek emergency services. Nicosia has sent a crisis management team to its embassy in Athens.

    In Nicosia, the president's spokesman, Marios Karogian said Cypriot authorities had ruled out terrorism in the incident on the basis of information received from Athens.

    Among public figures to express condolences to relatives were the president of the republic, Karolos Papoulias, Karamanlis, and leaders of Greece's three main opposition parties.

    No sign of sabotage, government says

    Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said authorities saw no evidence of terrorism or foul play in the disaster.

    In a late-night news conference on Sunday, Roussopoulos also flatly rejected media speculation air force fighter jets sent to track the aircraft had shot down the plane. "There was no such thought."

    Shortly before the plane crashed, two people - not pilots - were viewed in the cockpit trying to regain control of the aircraft, but it was unclear whether they were other crew members or passengers, the spokesman said.

    Helios Airways has been asked by the government to provide a detailed history of the aircraft's performance after reports that it had shown faulty operation in the past.

    "The most likely thing is that a technical fault was involved, but we are looking into all possible causes and details. It would not be responsible to say anything yet about the cause of the descent," Roussopoulos added.

    Helios plane grounded

    Helios Airways saw one of its airliners grounded in Larnaca on Monday after a refusal to fly by passengers and crew, according to the Athens News Agency's correspondent in Nicosia.

    A flight to Sofia, Bulgaria was suspended after the crew refused to board, and passengers demanded seats on other airlines or cash refunds.

    On Sunday, distraught relatives of the dead had complained bitterly of the airline's refusal to inform them of the crash or its aftermath, instead asking them to note the names of anyone they believed had joined the ill-fated flight.

    Incoming flights on Sunday, the day of crash, and on Monday, were unaffected, and the company had chartered two jets from Austrian Airways and Eygpt Air to carry out its remaining flights for the day, a Helios spokesman said.

    The spokesman denied statements by Cyprus' transport ministry that the airline had voluntarily grounded its fleet.

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