Cyprus court drops charges over air disaster

A Cyprus court dismissed manslaughter and negligence charges against a defunct airline and four of its former executives Wednesday over a 2005 crash which killed 121 people.

The Helios Airways Boeing 737-300 was traveling from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague when it crashed north of Athens, killing everyone on board. It was the worst aviation disaster ever in Greece or Cyprus, where most of its victims lived.

Cypriot authorities pressed charges of manslaughter and of causing death through negligence against four executives of Cyprus-based Helios, which has since discontinued operations. They pleaded not guilty.

After a petition by their lawyers, a panel of three judges in the criminal court in Nicosia ruled by majority there was no prima facie case against the defendants.

Investigators have said failure to switch a valve regulating oxygen supply to the aircraft knocked its pilots and most of the passengers unconscious shortly after the plane took off from Cyprus.

The aircraft flew on autopilot in Greek air space for two hours before it ran out of fuel and smashed into a hillside.

Greek air force pilots who trailed the aircraft saw a lone man at the controls of the plane, apparently trying in vain to avert the disaster. [Reuters]

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