Charges brewing for ’copter crash

A military prosecutor has launched the process of charging army and air force personnel with manslaughter, negligence and breach of safety procedures in connection with the September 2004 crash of a transport helicopter in which 17 people died, the Defense Ministry said yesterday. This followed the apparent conclusion that the accident was caused by engine or other problems, as opposed to pilot error. A ministry release said the Thessaloniki military prosecutor has completed a preliminary investigation into the accident, in which a US-made Chinook helicopter carrying a senior Church delegation crashed into the sea off Mount Athos. An advanced investigation – a process effectively tantamount to charges being pressed – will be launched against army and air force personnel, who, at this stage, have yet to be named. The investigation will concern the offenses of endangering an aircraft – resulting in human casualties – exposing passengers and crew to death, breaches of maintenance regulations, manslaughter, failing to launch a search for the crashed helicopter and disobeying orders. The helicopter crashed on September 11, while carrying senior clerics – including Petros, Patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa, as well as Chrysostomos, Bishop of Carthage – on a visit to the Mount Athos monastic community in the Halkidiki peninsula, east of Thessaloniki. The aircraft was carrying a crew of five. Everyone on board was killed. But military authorities failed to register the accident, only sounding the alarm two hours and 15 minutes after the crash. The rescue effort was launched half an hour after that. This delay led to the sacking of the air force chief of staff, while Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos resisted calls to resign. A military report in October blamed the delay on «negligence and poor coordination of the personnel responsible for tracking military flights.» The wreckage was raised later in October, from a depth of 866 meters. Reports yesterday said the helicopter’s remains will be sent to the US to be examined by experts from Boeing manufacturers.

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