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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 <http://www.ana.gr/>

CONTENTS

  • [01] Probe deepens after black boxes found in worst air disaster in Greece
  • [02] Religious holiday marked by grief, PM says
  • [03] Bank workers to strike Tuesday in protest at pensions law

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

    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 mostly 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 aircraft 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 reports that a passenger aboard the ill-fated flight had sent a mobile phone text message to relatives turned out to be a hoax after police tracked the message to a man in Thessaloniki, who confessed to fabricating the message.

    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 that spread through scrubland. The charred bodies lay amid broken parts of the plane scattered over a wide radius. The aircraft's tail was detached from the fuselage and appeared 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.

    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 Karoyan 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 as a counter-terrorism measure. "There was no such thought."

    Shortly before the plane crashed, two people 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 denied allegations on Monday that a flight engineer had branded the Boeing 737-300 as unfit to fly a day before the disaster.

    The company's chairman, Andreas Drakos, rejected reports that the engineer had resigned and that another engineer called to inspect the plane had deemed it safe; and that Helios had a fast staff turnover among engineers and technicians.

    Drakos also denied that the captain scheduled to take the ill-fated Athens to Prague flight via Athens had refused his assignment and been replaced by a colleague.

    "The aircraft underwent maintenance on the basis of international standards and civil aviation regulations," he claimed at a news conference in Cyprus.

    A decompression fault on a flight between Warsaw and Larnaca had been fixed in London and the airliner been declared flightworthy both by a global maintance company and by the aircraft's manufacturer.

    Drakos declined to state the aircraft's previous history, saying the data would be given to authorities. In addition, he pledged that Helios' engineers would wholeheartedly cooperate with Greek authorities investigating the case.

    Asked to comment on the grounding of one of Helios' flights earlier in the day after a refusal to fly by crew and then passengers, the chairman said staff on the roster were friends of dead crew members, and that the emotional side of the case was taken into account.

    A flight to 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, with company staff instead asking them to note the names of anyone they believed had joined the ill-fated flight.

    Other incoming flights on Sunday and Monday were unaffected and the company chartered two jets from Austrian Airways and Eygpt Air to carry out its remaining schedules for the day.

    Drakos confirmed that all Helios flights were running normally.

    Victims' families to get compensation

    Helios will offer the families of each victim an initial payment of 20,000 euros in compensation to cover immediate needs.

    Managing Director Dimitris Pantazis told a news conference at Athens international airport on Monday that a final figure will be settled at a later date.

    [02] Religious holiday marked by grief, PM says

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said that the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on Monday was marked by grief in the wake of an air crash near Athens that killed all 121 passengers and crew.

    "Our thoughts are with the victims' relatives," the premier told reporters after attending Mass at Athens Cathedral.

    On the island of Hydra, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece said grief had overshadowed the religious holiday.

    [03] Bank workers to strike Tuesday in protest at pensions law

    Bank employees are to stage a 24-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new law on pensions.

    The stoppage follows a long weekend due to a public holiday on August 15.

    The OTOE trade union says the law will hurt many of its members by raising the pensionable age and lowering supplementary pensions.

    Before the bill gained parliamentary approval, the union had sought a single supplementary pension system for the sector and opposed alignment of pensions with the main state fund.

    Bank employees staged a series of weekly 24-hour strikes in January and February this year and again in the spring before the bill became law after rejecting proposals by the government and employers.

    Bank workers to strike Tuesday in protest at pensions law

    Bank employees are to stage a 24-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new law on pensions.

    The stoppage follows a long weekend due to a public holiday on August 15.

    The OTOE trade union says the law will hurt many of its members by raising the pensionable age and lowering supplementary pensions.

    Before the bill gained parliamentary approval, the union had sought a single supplementary pension system for the sector and opposed alignment of pensions with the main state fund.

    Bank employees staged a series of weekly 24-hour strikes in January and February this year and again in the spring before the bill became law after rejecting proposals by the government and employers.


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