Questions over delay in crash briefing persist

As the opposition yesterday accused the government of staging a cover-up regarding when top officials learned about Saturday’s crash, which was reported with a delay of over two-and-a-half hours, the outgoing air force chief sacked for that delay claimed he was not the sole person to blame. Although the helicopter carrying Petros, Patriarch of Alexandria, and his retinue to Mount Athos was due to have landed at 11 a.m., for long afterward military officials apparently believed that all was well. The search-and-rescue operation only started at 1.45 p.m., while Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos claims to have been briefed at 2.15 p.m. – some 25 minutes later than Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis says he was informed. Lieutenant-General Panayiotis Papanikolaou was sacked from his position as head of the air force general staff over the delay air force radar operators showed in establishing that the helicopter was missing, and conveying that intelligence. While handing over to his successor yesterday, the outgoing air force chief said he could not be held responsible for matters concerning the maintenance and personnel of the army’s helicopters, adding that he was not the only person responsible for the delay in relaying the news of the crash. «I will be justified in the end,» he said. Yesterday, PASOK main opposition party spokesman Spyros Vougias claimed there was something distinctly fishy about the times government officials – most of who were in Thessaloniki for the prime minister’s keynote speech on the economy at the annual trade fair – claim to have been told about the crash. «There is an effort under way to cover up the true time when senior government officials were briefed… and the prime minister has a heavy political responsibility to provide a plausible answer,» Vougias told a press conference. «How can the rescue effort have started an hour before the responsible minister and the prime minister were briefed?» PASOK has called for Spiliotopoulos’s dismissal. Sources told Kathimerini yesterday that a preliminary report to Spiliotopoulos by the head of the joint chiefs of staff does not bear out the government’s version of events. The minister is believed to have sent back the report for revision.

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