Boeing sued over Cypriot air crash

Relatives of eight Cypriot passengers killed when an airliner ran out of cabin oxygen and continued on a pilotless flight into a Greek hillside, are claiming 76 million euros from US aircraft maker Boeing, their lawyer said on Wednesday. The damages claim, amounting to 105 million dollars, was based on the belief that confusing sound alarms had contributed to cutting off oxygen to the cabin and the crash that killed all 121 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 737-300, the lawyer said. The aircraft was being operated by low-budget Cypriot carrier Helios Airways. The crash, in which passengers and crew appeared to be in oxygen-starved sleep, was the worst air accident for Greece and Cyprus. The air at high altitude contains little oxygen and airliners are equipped with systems to compensate. «Boeing had instituted the same sound alert for two different kinds of malfunctions. One was minor, but the other, the loss of oxygen in the cabin, is very important,» the lawyer for the families, Constantinos Droungas, told AFP. Similar problems had been reported in Boeing planes used in Ireland and Norway, he alleged. The Helios accident made headlines around the world as one of the most puzzling in aviation history. After leaving Larnaca airport for a flight to Prague via Athens, the plane flew on auto-pilot for nearly two hours, or possibly longer, ending in wreckage on a rural hillside outside Athens in August 2005. When the airliner had entered Greek air space and was failing to respond to calls, the pilots of two Greek F-16 fighters sent in pursuit saw that the captain’s seat was empty and a second person was wrestling with the controls. That person has since been identified as Helios flight attendant Andreas Prodromou, who apparently managed to remain conscious even though extra oxygen supplies to the cabin had been cut. He sent two Mayday messages before the plane ran out of fuel. In October, a Greek investigation commission said the Helios pilots had failed to recognize early warnings of a drop in cabin pressure and had omitted to switch pressurization from manual to automatic in pre-flight checks. But it also blamed Boeing for taking inadequate measures to rectify similar pressurization «incidents» on the same type of aircraft. The lawsuit filed in Athens last week was also a bid to revive a criminal investigation in Cyprus into possible negligence by Cypriot aviation authorities which has made little progress, Droungas said. Among the plaintiffs is a young boy who lost his entire family in the crash. The case is expected to be heard in mid-2008. The operating license for Helios was revoked and 6.6 million dollars of its assets were frozen in November. The company has been re-named Ajet Aviation. Greek justice officials have also opened a criminal investigation into the case. (AFP)

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