Fatal helicopter found

A manned deep-sea submarine yesterday afternoon located the wreckage of the army helicopter that crashed into the sea south of Halkidiki on Saturday, killing 17 people, including four senior Orthodox clerics. The battered fuselage of the US-made Chinook transport helicopter lies at a depth of 866 meters, some 8 miles southwest of Mount Athos, where the aircraft had been carrying a delegation led by Petros, Patriarch of Alexandria and leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa. Earlier in the day, the Thetis bathyscaphe, which operates from the Aegaio oceanographic research vessel, had located a small concentration of lifebelts and two religious books near where the fuselage was found. The bodies of at least some of the eight crash victims whose corpses have yet to be recovered are believed to be trapped among the debris. The Aegaio joined the search on Tuesday. Experts expressed fears yesterday that the recovery operation could be both lengthy and costly – with a price tag of over 33 million euros. Meanwhile, the 55-year-old, Cyprus-born patriarch was buried in the catacombs of the Church of St George in Cairo, where his predecessors are interred. The ceremony was attended by President Costis Stephanopoulos, the titular head of the world’s Greek Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, and other senior church officials. Earlier, a memorial service was held in Athens Cathedral, where Petros’s body lay in state for three days before being removed with the honors normally accorded to a head of state. A new patriarch is expected to be elected on Monday. Other passengers on the flight included the bishops of Carthage, Madagascar and Pelasium, as well as the patriarch’s brother and senior aides. The Chinook was carrying a crew of five. In Athens, Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos ordered an urgent investigation into why the army took delivery of the fatal helicopter in December 2001 even though, according to reports, it presented defects, how the problem was resolved and why the Chinook’s rotor blades were not replaced despite fears they might be defective.

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