The last moments

Just 20 seconds was all it took for a third EKAB helicopter and its unsuspecting four-member crew to plunge into the sea and add yet another airborne disaster to the list. All portents suggested nothing untoward had occurred when suddenly, at 00.15 on Tuesday, the last taped conversation between crew and ground control on Icaria was suddenly cut off. In vain did air-traffic controllers reiterate, «You’re free to land.» Silence was the reply. No one aboard the helicopter had had the time to notify of any danger. The helicopter crash happened so suddenly that experts believe only a mechanical failure could account for it. For now, the only clues to the fate of the Agusta helicopter lie in its past. Despite its relative youth, a serious fault led to the replacement of one engine last summer. An earlier, forced landing was allegedly due to an oil leak. The sea is being trawled for remains in order to find the causes of the crash. To locate the fuselage and other parts, an oceanographic, sonar-equipped vessel will operate under the eye of a public prosecutor, sources say. ND charges gov’t with insensitivity The opposition New Democracy party accused the government of a lack of political sensitivity, with its spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos mentioning remarks by PASOK deputy Franglinos Papadelis, former deputy minister of health, who had proposed the use of army or air force helicopters. He asked why his proposal had not been taken up and other contracts signed. «Every Greek citizen is aware of a modicum of political sensitivity,» said Roussopoulos, «apart from the PASOK government.»