New body to manage air rescue

Thirteen days after the third fatal crash of a state helicopter ambulance in two years, the government yesterday said it was setting up a public organization to handle rescue flights using air force pilots. Four people died when a National First Aid Center (EKAB) Agusta A109E helicopter went down in the sea off the island of Icaria on February 11, during a night flight to carry a patient to a hospital on another island. The crewmens’ bodies have yet to be located, while only small fragments of the helicopter have been recovered so far. Another 10 people died in two previous accidents. Yesterday, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said air ambulance and rescue flights would henceforth be organized by the Air Transport Utilities Command (DAYKO), which is to replace an existing air force unit that will be upgraded and is to take over responsibility for pilot training and aircraft maintenance. DAYKO, which Papantoniou said will «soon» start functioning, will be managed by EKAB and the General Secretariat for Civil Defense which will judge which calls are urgent enough to merit an air ambulance.