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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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September 17, 2009

Cypriot court begins Greek air disaster trial

Cypriot court begins Greek air disaster trial

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

This computer generated image shows the unresponsive aircraft being shadowed by Greek fighter jets

A court in Cyprus has begun the trial of defunct airline Helios and four managers over an air disaster in Greece. The five are facing a total of 1,190 charges after Flight 522 went down near Athens in 2005, killing 121 people.

All defendants entered not guilty pleas, and are alleged by prosecutors to have operated their business in an unsafe manner. It is alleged that the flight should never have been allowed to take off. As well as the company, executive chairman Andreas Drakos, managing director Demetris Pantazis, operations manager George Kikkides and head pilot Ianko Stoimenov will face a full trial when proceedings are resumed on November 27. They will return to the Nicosia court then. The charges include manslaughter and causing death via a careless act.

The route the fatal flight took

The unresponsive Boeing 737, supposed to be flying between Lanarca to Prague, had entered Greek airspace, where it was intercepted by two F-16 fighter jets on August 14, 2005.

The F-16 pilots reported the airliner’s pilots were slumped over the controls. After flying on autopilot for two hours the aircraft crashed near Athens despite the efforts of a flight attendant, who was training to become a pilot, to take control and save the jet.

The subsequent investigation discovered that the pilots failed to adequately monitor the pressurisation system. The plane lost cabin pressure and hypoxia caused the incapacitation of the passengers and flight crew. It is thought that the conscious flight attendant had used multiple crew oxygen cylinders to outlast the others on board. Investigators also believe that the equipment had been left in the wrong setting after testing by maintenance engineers and never checked before flight.

After failing to resuscitate the pilot-in-command, the trainee pilot turned off the autopilot and attempted an emergency landing at Athens International Airport, which the aircraft had been circling in a holding pattern awaiting human input. However, the aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the runway.



Related news

  • “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

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December 23, 2008

Cyprus charges five over 2005 air crash that killed 121

Cyprus charges five over 2005 air crash that killed 121

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This computer generated image shows the unresponsive aircraft being shadowed by Greek fighter jets

Cypriot prosecutors have charged five people over the 2005 crash of Helios Airways Flight 522. The loss of the Boeing 737 killed all 121 people on board in what was the deadliest air disaster for both Greece and Cyprus.

“The charge sheet was submitted to the court [in Nicosia today [Tuesday], and a response to the charges has been set for February 26,” said deputy attorney general Akis Papasavvas. The names of those charged were not released, and they face charges of manslaughter and causing death by a reckless, thoughtless or dangerous act, which carry life and four year terms respectively. They all worked for Helios.

“The charges concern two of the three most serious offences under the Cyprus penal code,” said Papasavvas. Families of the victims, who had already called for criminal prosecutions, are still carrying out a civil action against the Cypriot civil aviation authority and airframer Boeing. Helios closed in 2006, having been renamed Ajet Airways.

The route the fatal flight took

The unresponsive aircraft, supposed to be flying between Lanarca to Prague, entered Greek airspace, where it was intercepted by two F-16 fighter jets on August 14, 2005.

The F-16 pilots reported the airliner’s pilots were slumped over the controls. After flying on autopilot for two hours the aircraft crashed near Athens despite the efforts of a flight attendant, who was training to become a pilot, to take control and save the jet.

The subsequent investigation discovered that the pilots failed to adequately monitor the pressurisation system. The plane lost cabin pressure and hypoxia caused the incapacitation of the passengers and flight crew. It is thought that the conscious flight attendant had used multiple crew oxygen cylinders to outlast the others on board. Investigators also believe that the equipment had been left in the wrong setting after testing by maintenance engineers and never checked before flight.

After failing to resuscitate the pilot-in-command, the trainee pilot turned off the autopilot and attempted an emergency landing at Athens International Airport, which the aircraft had been circling in a holding pattern awaiting human input. However, the aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the runway.



Related news

  • Cypriot court begins Greek air disaster trial” — Wikinews, September 17, 2009
  • “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

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November 4, 2008

Cyprus to charge five over 2005 plane crash that killed 121

Cyprus to charge five over 2005 plane crash that killed 121

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This computer generated image shows the unresponsive aircraft being shadowed by Greek fighter jets

Cypriot prosecutors have announced that they intend to charge five people over the 2005 crash of Helios Airways Flight 522. The loss of the Boeing 737 killed all 121 people on board.

Attorney General Petros Clerides announced the plans today, but did not indicate who was to be charged or exactly what the offenses were.

“We came to the conclusion that, from the evidence gathered, a criminal prosecution is justified against several people whom we consider accountable for the plane crash,” he said at a press conference in Nicosia.

The route the fatal flight took

The unresponsive aircraft, supposed to be flying between Lanarca to Prague, entered Greek airspace where it was intercepted by two F-16 fighter jets on August 14, 2005.

The F-16 pilots reported the airliner’s pilots were slumped over the controls. After flying on autopilot for two hours the aircraft crashed near Athens despite the efforts of a flight attendant, who was training to become a pilot, to take control and save the jet.

The subsequent investigation discovered that the pilots failed to adequately monitor the pressurisation system. The plane lost cabin pressure and hypoxia caused the incapacitation of the passengers and flight crew. It is thought that the conscious flight attendant had used multiple crew oxygen cylinders to outlast the others on board. Investigators also believe that the equipment had been left in the wrong setting after testing by maintenance engineers and never checked before flight.

After failing to resuscitate the pilot-in-command, the trainee pilot turned off the autopilot and attempted an emergency landing at Athens International Airport, which the aircraft had been circling in a holding pattern awaiting human input. However, the aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the runway.

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August 16, 2005

Plane carrying 160 crashes in Venezuela

Plane carrying 160 crashes in Venezuela – Wikinews, the free news source

Plane carrying 160 crashes in Venezuela

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Location of the crash site

A Colombian passenger jet carrying 152 passengers and 8 crewmembers has crashed in Western Venezuela. Officials said the plane was travelling from Panama, headed for Martinique in the Caribbean when its pilot reported engine trouble to the Caracas airport just after 3 am (07:00 UTC). The pilot reportedly asked for permission to land at Maracaibo airport shortly before the plane went missing in the remote state of Zulia, close to the Colombian border. Locals have reported hearing explosions near the scene of the crash.

A Scandinavian Airways MD 82. This is the type of plane involved in the crash

The crashed plane was a 19 year old MD-82 of West Caribbean Airways based in Medellín carrying the registration number HK-4374X. which was delivered only back on 10 January 2005.

The French news agency AFP reports that all passengers and crew have perished. The crash comes just two days after an airplane crash in Greece, which killed 121 people.

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West Caribbean Airways Flight 708
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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 © airliners.gr/Elliot 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.

Passengers

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]

Timeline

  • 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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