Investigation continues into Cypriot plane crash
15 August 2005, ATHENS - Investigations were continuing in Athens on Monday to determine why a Cypriot airliner crashed into an uninhabited mountainous region a day earlier, killing all 121 passengers aboard.
15 August 2005
ATHENS - Investigations were continuing in Athens on Monday to determine why a Cypriot airliner crashed into an uninhabited mountainous region a day earlier, killing all 121 passengers aboard.
Sunday's crash, the worst air disaster ever in Greece, occurred minutes after the pilot of the Cypriot Helios Airlines jet told air traffic controllers the plane was experiencing air-conditioning problems.
The German pilot, identified as Martin Hans Gurgen, and a family of four Armenians were the only non-Greeks or non-Cypriots among the 121 killed. Twelve were Greek, while the remaining 104 were Cypriot, according to the passenger list released on Monday.
The Boeing 737 flight was en-route from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague via Athens when it spiralled out of control in the mountains of Oropos, an uninhabited area 40 kilometres north-east of Athens.
Most or all of the 121 passengers and crew on the doomed airliner were probably dead before the plane hit the ground, Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said on Monday.
The minister did not say what caused the deaths, but Greek state television said autopsies would establish whether the victims died of asphyxiation due to a lack of oxygen in the aircraft.
Most of the bodies recovered from the aircraft were frozen solid, reports said.
Greek Deputy Health Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos said there were 21 children on board the flight and not 48 as initially reported.
Greek investigators with the help of U.S. aviation experts are likely to examine whether a sudden loss of pressure in the cockpit overcame the pilots before they could take on oxygen and bring the aircraft to a lower, safer altitude.
The flight data recorders from the Cypriot airliner are expected to be sent to France for examination to determine why it went down, although the Greek government has already ruled out a terrorist attack.
Relatives of the dead, meanwhile, arrived in Athens from Cyprus and gathered at the morgue to identify the remains of those on board - many of which were discovered still frozen and strapped into their seats.
"I lost five members of my family. How will I replace that," said one devastated relative.
In Cyprus, the pilots and crew of Helios Airways refused to fly Monday after reports that passengers had complained about past technical problems.
A spokesperson from Helios denied a Cyprus Transport Ministry statement that its planes had been grounded.
The last minutes of the 737 flight appear to have baffled Greek authorities.
Two Greek F-16 fighter planes were ordered to trail the "renegade jet" after it lost contact with the control tower at Athens International Airport once it entered Greek airspace over the Aegean Sea, approximately 23 minutes after take-off.
The fighter pilots reported to Greek authorities that, with the pilots apparently out of action, there may have been a last effort by others on the plane to bring it under control.
They reported seeing two individuals in the cockpit, but it is unclear if they were passengers or crew members.
The F-16 pilots also reported that oxygen masks were hanging down in the cabin, indicating a problem with the oxygen supply onboard.
A man whose cousin was a passenger on the plane told Greek television he received a cell-phone text message minutes before the crash.
"The pilot has turned blue," it said. "Cousin, farewell we are freezing."
But it was not clear whether the pilot had left the cockpit to enter the passenger cabin or whether the sender of the text message had been in the cockpit.
The Greek Defence Ministry said the crashed Cypriot plane suffered from oxygen or cabin pressure problems.
Greek media have speculated that toxic gas from a faulty air- conditioning system could have knocked out the two pilots before they knew the plane was in danger.
One of the F-16 pilots said he could not see the captain in the cockpit and his co-pilot appeared to be slouched in his seat.
Aviation experts insist a sudden loss of pressurization would not have caused the plane to crash, nor would it have made the pilots immediately lose consciousness.
Greek air force experts, speaking on condition of anonymity, have also pointed out that the pilots would have had their own oxygen supply.
Greece has declared a day of mourning for Tuesday, when flags are scheduled to fly at half-mast and a three-minute silence to be observed in public buildings.
Cyprus plans to observe three days of mourning.
Subject: German news