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December 22, 2011

Cypriot court clears all of wrongdoing in Greek air disaster

Cypriot court clears all of wrongdoing in Greek air disaster

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

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This computer generated image shows the unresponsive aircraft being shadowed by Greek fighter jets.
Image: Anynobody.

A two-year trial concluded yesterday in Cyprus with the court in Nicosia clearing former senior staff of Helios Airways of manslaughter. They, alongside the defunct airline, had been accused of responsibility for killing 119 in a crash near Athens.

All 121 on board Flight 522 were killed but the prosecution did not charge manslaughter in relation to the two flight crew, deeming them partially responsible for their own deaths. The accident remains the worst air disaster to befall both Greece and Cyprus. Most victims were Cypriot tourists.

The Cypriot jet left Larnaca on August 14, 2005. It was headed for Prague in the Czech Republic. Contact was quickly lost with the aircraft, which flew itself as far as the Greek capital on autopilot.

The Boeing 737‘s pressurisation system is believed to have been incorrectly set by maintenance and oxygen starvation had knocked out German Captain Hans-Jurgen Merten and Cypriot co-pilot Pambos Charalambous. They never checked the system before takeoff, which had undergone testing prior to flight.

An alarm had sounded both on the ground and in the air but had been ignored by those flying, as the same alarm was used for a different problem and the pilots therefore misinterpreted the alarm. This design would later be cited by victims’ relatives in a civil case against Boeing.

As the unresponsive jet entered Greek airspace two F-16 fighter jets intercepted. The air force reported back that the civilian craft’s pilots were slumped over the controls. Passengers were similarly incapacitated. The plane reached Athens International Airport — an intermediate stop in Athens was planned — by itself and then began circling the area awaiting human input.

That input eventually came in the form of a trainee pilot working on-board as a flight attendant. Investigators believe Andreas Prodromou had used multiple crew oxygen cylinders to be the last conscious person on board. The fighter pilots were able to watch him enter the cockpit.

Map of the flight path.
Image: Mysid.

F-16 pilot Panayiotis Athanasopoulos was the last person to see Prodromou alive. He previously told the trial of initially receiving no response when signalling the jet in an attempt to get the pilots to follow him, then discovering the flight crew unconscious. The captain was out of sight. He testified he also signalled people wearing oxygen masks in the passenger cabin with similar lack of response. Prodromou, 25, entered the cockpit as the jet began losing altitude.

After trying but failing to resuscitate Merten, the fighter pilots saw the trainee pilot take over the controls himself in a bid to save the plane. He was out of time. By then the aircraft had been in the air for two hours, and it ran out of fuel before it could reach the runway. Although many were deeply comatose from lack of oxygen, everyone on board was still alive when the plane crashed into a mountain at Grammatiko, north of Athens.

Athanasopoulos says he gesticulated to Proprodomou and signalled him to land upon getting his attention. The trainee pilot simply pointed downwards, after which he “looked ahead and did not look towards me again as the plane went down”. The airliner struck the ground levelly on its underside after straightening out moments before impact. It was torn apart.

The following year saw an air accident report primarily citing human error, and an inquiry by ex-Judge Panayiotis Kallis. The Kallis report was never made public. Helios, which was renamed Ajet Airways, closed down in 2006. Helios and Boeing were sued by victims’ relatives; they sought 76 million but reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum. The accident report had also blamed Boeing for an “ineffectiveness of measures” over the dual-purpose alarm system.

The five defendants were charged in 2008. The defunct airline and four senior staff members each faced 119 counts of manslaughter, and alternative counts of causing death by a reckless, thoughtless or dangerous act. This gave a total of 1,190 charges. Manslaughter carries a potential life sentence with up to four years available on the lesser charge. “The charges concern two of the three most serious offences under the Cyprus penal code,” deputy attorney general Akis Papasavvas said at the time.

The prosecution case was that the pilots were unfit to fly and the defendants were negligent in letting them at the controls. The state prosecutor therefore needed to prove the actions of Merten and Charalambous caused the disaster, as well as that those in the dock were responsible for their employment and aware — or ought to have been aware — of inadequacies in their competence.

The prosecution had noted the accused failed to seek references from Jet2, Merten’s last employer. He lost that job owing to failings in his duties and was later the subject of Helios co-pilots’ complaints. Charalambous was considered unlikely to achieve promotion to pilot and his ability to handle stress was questioned at trial.

A file photo of the aircraft from less than a year before it crashed.
Image: Alan Lebeda.

In reaching a majority decision, two of the three judges noted Helios chief executive Andreas Drakos and managing director Demetris Pantazis would be acquitted even if the prosecution proved its case as they were not responsible for employing the pair. This fell to co-accused operations manager George Kikkides and chief pilot Ianko Stoimenov.

In any event, the verdict described “a dead-end for any procedure of identifying the competence of Merten” with only Jet2 among his previous employers being known to have a negative view of him. Subsequent official evaluations rated both him and Charalambous suitably competent to fly.

“The lack of any causal association between the defendants and the negligence they were charged with for the fatal accident completely disconnects the defendants with the accident,” said the 170-page verdict. “Regardless… [of] how the charges are viewed, they remain groundless and without supporting evidence. It’s judged that this reason is sufficient to dismiss all charges and acquit all defendants.”

Assize Court President Charis Solomonides read the decision: “we conclude, without reservation, that no case has been proven prima-facie against all the defendants in all the charges they face and therefore, all the defendants are acquitted and charges are dropped.” Solomonides made repeated mention of an inability for the prosecution to link the pilots’ actions to those on trial, and noted that therefore no assessment had been made of their performance that day.

Judge Nicolas Santis dissented. Nonetheless, he too had criticisms of the prosecution. He said they failed to properly define ‘competence’ and called very few experts to testify. Victims’ relatives shouted in the courtroom after he finished reading his opinion; cries included “killers!” and “is this justice?”.

Victims’ relatives had in fact predicted the acquittal and blamed the state for what they characterised as a poorly presented case. Relatives’ Committee president Nicolas Yiasoumis said “It was common knowledge that proceedings were weak due to the phrasing of the charges.” There were also renewed calls for publication of the Kallis report. Yiasoumis claimed the Kallis report reached different conclusions to those used at trial, and said “We did not believe they could be convicted on the basis of the argument that they had not employed the appropriate staff.”

Attorney General Petros Clerides initially said an appeal will be decided upon once the decision has been read, and that the Law Office was presently studying it. Yiasoumis said relatives may take Cyprus to a European court over the case once Cypriot legal matters are concluded. Clerides has now confirmed an appeal will be filed, which the prosecution has two weeks to do. He defended the performance of those who prosecuted “this titanic case”. The appeal would be to the Supreme Court.

Related news

  • Cypriot court begins Greek air disaster trial” — Wikinews, September 17, 2009
  • “Cyprus charges five over 2005 air crash that killed 121” — Wikinews, December 23, 2008
  • “Cyprus to charge five over 2005 plane crash that killed 121” — Wikinews, November 4, 2008
  • “Coroner makes first post mortems of Athens airliner crash victims; text message was a hoax” — Wikinews, August 15, 2005
  • “Cypriot plane with 121 on board crashes in Greece” — Wikinews, August 14, 2005

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June 29, 2010

Eleven alleged Russian spies arrested in US

Eleven alleged Russian spies arrested in US

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US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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The United States announced the arrest of eleven people accused of acting as spies for Russia, breaking up what the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) called a “long term, deep cover” spy ring within the US.

Those arrested were, according to the US government, members of a spy ring that had existed for several years, involving Russian agents adopting civilian identities. All are charged with acting as unlawful agents for Russia, which carries a sentence of a prison term up to five years. Nine were charged with money laundering, a crime that carries a prison term of up to twenty years.

According to the US government, the suspects had been trained by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service to obtain information about US military policies, including those concerned with nuclear weapons, as well as intelligence about leadership at the CIA and the White House.

The FBI said that to obtain those objectives, the suspects were instructed to live as American citizens under false names, some as married couples. Some suspects were able to achieve ties with prominent US citizens, including a scientist working with nuclear weapons and a New York financier who had ties to officials within the US government.

Communication with Russian authorities was allegedly via several disparate methods, including unique wireless internet connections or pictures posted on the Internet with hidden messages, as well as more traditional methods such as burying messages or swapping bags between agents.

The Russian Foreign Ministry told the AFP that they are investigating the allegations, but say that “there are a lot of contradictions.” No further comment has been made.

Names of those accused

Names in quotes are cover names, while those not in quotes are real names of the alleged agents. Couples are on the same bullet, while those living alone are separate. Locations are where the suspects were arrested.

  • “Richard and Cynthia Murphy” (Montclair, New Jersey)
  • Vicky Paleaz (Yonkers, New York)
  • “Juan Lazaro” (Yonkers, New York)
  • Anna Chapman (Manhattan, New York City)
  • Mikhail Zemenko (Arlington, Virginia)
  • “Michael Zottoli” and “Patricia Mills” (Arlington, Virginia)
  • “Donald Howard Heathfield” and “Tracy Lee Ann Foley” (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • “Christopher R. Metsos” (Larnaca, Cyprus)

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 27.



This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

February 1, 2010

Ban Ki-Moon says Cyprus solution \”possible\”

Ban Ki-Moon says Cyprus solution “possible”

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Monday, February 1, 2010

File photo of Ban Ki-Moon.
Image: World Economic Forum.

A UN buffer zone separates the two sections.
Image: Jpatokal.

A new set of talks are scheduled to attempt to reunite Cyprus, prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to say that a solution is “possible and within reach” when he arrived in the country yesterday for talks between Greek and Turkish-Cypriot leaders that will take place later today.

Progress have been slow for the peace talks, which started in September 2008, but the UN chief said that a deal would require “courage, flexibility and vision as well as a spirit of compromise”. “I am under no illusion that the Cyprus problem is easy to solve”, he told reporters after he arrived in Larnaca yesterday in preparation for the talks with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Ali Talat today.

Ban said that “solving the Cyprus problem will give inspiration to all those around the world trying to solve other seemingly intractable problems and I’m looking forward to having good meetings with the leaders”, with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders saying that they are committed to finding a solution. Monday’s talks will involve Ban holding talks with the two leaders individually, before chairing a meeting between the pair. Any deal that emerges will be a subject of two simultaneous referendums, one for each side of the border. Both sides agree that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

Jonny Dymond, the BBC Europe correspondent, has expressed fears that time is running out on a solution. There are also worries that the fast approaching northern Cyprus leadership elections will mean that Talat is replaced by nationalist Dervis Eroglu, who is leading in opinion polls. If this were to happen, talks might be shelved.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, after Turkish forces invaded after a coup led by Greece allegedly aimed to absorb it. Northern Cyprus is only recognised as a state by Turkey.



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February 17, 2008

Greek-Cypriots vote for President

Greek-Cypriots vote for President – Wikinews, the free news source

Greek-Cypriots vote for President

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

File:Güney Kıbrıs Rum Kesimi haritası.png

Map of divided Cyprus. With green colour, the Republic of Cyprus.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Polls have already closed on the Republic of Cyprus in a quite important closely fought presidential election. Official results are expected in a few hours, and two exit polls suggest the three leading candidates, current President Tassos Papadopoulos, Dimitris Christofias, Ioannis Kasoulides are neck-and-neck. An exit poll on state television (RIK) gave each candidate around a third of the vote, with left-wing’s AKEL party leader Dimitris Christofias, marginally ahead. However, another exit poll for the TV channel Mega suggested that president Papadopoulos is ahead of the other two candidates.

Mr.Papadopoulos, a lawyer and convervative politician, became President of the Greek-controlled Republic of Cyprus in 2003. He had expressed his strong opposition to the 2004 UN plan for re-unification of the island and urged Greek Cypriots to vote against the plan in a referendum which took place on March 2004. Cypriot voters are calculated to around 570,000 across the south of the island, most of them voting in four major cities, Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos.

Cyprus is a divided island since 1974, after the Turkish military invasion in the north. Since then, the island remains divided in two parts, the Greek south Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish north (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). The Greek-controlled Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union since 2004 and a member of the euro zone since January 1, 2008.



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August 14, 2005

Cypriot plane with 121 on board crashes in Greece

Cypriot plane with 121 on board crashes in Greece

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

File photo of the crashed Helios Airways B 737 © Kefalas

A Helios airliner (Boeing 737, flight HCY 522) with 115 passengers and 6 crew onboard has crashed into a mountain at 09:04 UTC (12:04 p.m. EEST) near Grammatiko, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Athens, while approaching the capital’s airport. All on board perished. The plane was travelling from Larnaca, in the southeast of Cyprus (Greek:Kypros, Κύπρος) and scheduled to arrive in Prague after a stop in Athens.

In-flight events

Immediately after take-off, the pilots reported a problem with the air conditioning system of the aircraft and requested to stay at a low altitude. A few minutes later, the pilots alerted the station that the problem had been fixed and requested permission to ascend. This information however has been denied by the Director of Helios Airways. As the plane approached Athens, all communication abruptly ceased, and the plane never issued a mayday distress signal. Two Greek F-16 military aircraft were assigned to observe the plane. The pilots of the F-16s noted that one airliner pilot appeared to be unconscious and the other was not in the cockpit.

CBC reported the following:

On Wednesday [August 17, 2005], state-run and private media, quoting anonymous defense ministry officials, said the two fighter pilots saw someone in the cockpit take control of the plane, which was flying in a gradually descending holding pattern apparently on autopilot. That person, probably a man who experts say must have had flight training, then banked the plane away from Athens, lowering it to 2,000 feet and then climbing back up to 7,000 feet before the plane apparently ran out of fuel and crashed.

The F-16s accompanied the airliner until it crashed.

Possible malfunctions and causes

The Greek F-16 pilots saw at least one of the aircraft’s pilots may have become unconscious before the crash, causing control of the plane to be lost. The emergency oxygen masks were also reported to have dropped.

There had been speculation that an electrical fire or some other cause could have flooded the cabin with carbon monoxide or another gas that would render the passengers unconscious. However, the chief coroner of Athens, Greece, said that tests showed none of the passengers or crew had carbon monoxide in their blood. It was also speculated that the air-supply system of the aircraft may have failed, causing a loss of air pressure within the cockpit. This malfunction can cause a steep drop in air temperature. On December 16, 2004 the same aircraft made an emergency landing after failure of the ventilation system at 35,000 feet and 3 passengers were hospitalized. However, an airline spokesman insisted that the plane was airworthy when it took off.

Tests showed that at least 26 people on the flight were still alive when it crashed.

After a cabin decompression occurred onboard a Learjet carrying golf pro Payne Stewart in 1999, all the travelers lost consciousness and the plane eventually crashed with no survivors.


Helios Airlines was unable to supply a complete passenger list, having only first initials and surnames available for investigators.

The official passenger list released by Cyprus Police, as reported by CNA, indicates that there were 22 young persons onboard aged 4-16. Most of the passengers were Cypriot, a small number were Greek and one of the pilots was German. There were 4 Armenian passengers who lived in Cyprus.

The complete list, in Greek, has been published by the Cyprus News Agency.

Post-crash events

After the crash, a fire started around the airliner. It was extinguished by firefighters after 2 hours. The fire burned most of the bodies that are now being collected by special firefighter units and transferred to the city of Shisto, near Athens. Meanwhile, the two F-16 pilots were transferred to Ministry of Defense to give their report.

The flight data recorder has been recovered. The cockpit voice recorder was found the following morning in bad condition. The two devices will be sent to Paris for examination.

Nektarios-Sotirios Voutas [1][2] reported that a passenger (his cousin) sent a text message that read: “The pilot has turned blue [in the face]. [F]arewell we’re freezing”. He was arrested the following day as it appeared to be a hoax [3].

Reactions from Helios Airways

Helios has informed the relatives of the victims; however, the company has been met with criticism for failing to release the passenger list quickly.

Helios Airways released a statement on their website today, stating, “Our thoughts are with the families of those on board at this difficult time.”

An emergency telephone number in Nicosia, Cyprus can be contacted at +357/70003737, 22 – 446146.

Official reactions

The Cypriot government has declared three days of national mourning and ordered flags to be lowered on half-mast.

Upon allegations brought by the Communications and Works Minister and the chief of police, warrants were issued by the attorney general to search Helios Airways offices [4]


  • 09:00 (06:00 UTC) Scheduled departure time.
  • 09:07 (06:07 UTC) Airplane takes off from Larnaka airport.
  • 10:30 (07:30 UTC) Flight fails to establish contact with the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport
  • 10:37 (07:37 UTC) Last contact with Larnaka airport reporting problem.
  • 10:45 (07:45 UTC) Scheduled arrival time in Athens.
  • 10:55 (07:55 UTC) The Hellenic Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Panagiotis Chinofotis orders military planes to establish visual contact with the aircraft.
  • 11:05 (08:05 UTC) Two F-16 fighter planes take off from Néa Anghialos Air Base, Greece.
  • 11:18 (08:18 UTC) Fighter pilots note co-pilot slumped over the aircraft’s instrument panel.
  • 12:04 (09:04 UTC) Aircraft crashes near Grammatiko.
  • 13:10 (11:10 UTC) Scheduled arrival time in Prague.

Cyprus and Greece are UTC+3, Czech Republic is UTC+2.

About Helios Airways

Helios Airways was founded in 1999 as Cyprus’ first private airline. It is now a subsidiary of Libra Holidays Group of Limassol, Cyprus and is registered in Cyprus. Helios’ remaining fleet consists of 2 Boeing 737-800 jets and an Airbus A319. Helios offers flights between Cyprus and London, Athens, Sofia, Warsaw, Dublin and Strasbourg.


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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

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