Questions over airworthiness of downed ’copter

The third fatal accident in two years involving helicopters of the National First Aid Center (EKAB) has raised the question as to whether the particular helicopter was in good technical condition and fit to carry out mercy flights. Helitalia, the company operating EKAB’s helicopters (which are now down to three), said that the particular aircraft, the Agusta A109 E with the code SX-HDV, «had no history of problems.» But the captain of Mytilene Airport on Lesvos, where the helicopter was based, Stratis Vakoulis, said that on February 3, 2003 «this helicopter had a malfunction in the form of an oil leak which forced it to carry out a forced landing at Psarra.» The incident was recorded in Mytilene Airport’s logbook and was also the subject of a question New Democracy’s shadow health minister Nikitas Kaklamanis asked in Parliament yesterday. A representative of Helitalia, Giorgos Avgeropoulos, told NET state television that the problem was not serious and had been caused by what he called a cracked «rubber» after an oil filter change. He said about a liter of oil had been lost. The pilot landed the helicopter and a second helicopter flew out after a mechanic replaced the part and topped up the oil, he said. He stressed that the problem was not serious. Helitalia said that the helicopter had flown just 647 hours and «there was never any report of a malfunction or a mistake by the crew.» It noted that on the same afternoon of February 3, the same helicopter had flown from Mytilene to Athens and back to Mytilene without any problem. Helitalia said that the last inspection of the helicopter had been carried out after 629 hours of flight without any problem being found, as was the case with the previous periodic inspection conducted after 588 hours of flight. Italian company Helitalia was hired by the State in the summer of 2000 to operate EKAB’s flights. Another Italian company, TASS, was hired at the same time to provide technical support, said the Civil Aviation Service (YPA). YPA said that it had conducted joint inspections with the Italian companies in October and December. «The helicopter in question had undergone all the air worthiness inspections called for,» YPA said. The fact that the helicopter went down just 6 kilometers (4 miles) off Icaria, after the airport control tower and the pilot had exchanged messages saying that they saw each other, added to the mystery as to what brought it down so fast without warning.