NEWS

Scenic Greek valley turned into inferno

Grammatiko, Greece – Blackened bodies, tattered luggage and smoldering debris lay scattered among the pine trees in a scenic Greek valley after a Helios Airways flight slammed into a mountainside and filled the air with acrid smoke. Constantinos Michas, a resident of Grammatiko near the ancient city of Marathon, was one of the first people on the scene on Sunday.«I took my car and went straight to the mountain… I saw about 80 dead bodies, some were children,» he said. «There were some body parts but most were just as their mother made them.» Only three parts of the plane remained intact – the tail, the cockpit and a large chunk of the fuselage. The tail, emblazoned with an ancient Greek symbol of the sun, ended up on a dirt road.The plane broke up into at least three pieces. Bodies, luggage and parts of the plane were scattered over 12 acres (5 hectares) of hillside. There were no survivors. As police cordoned off part of the crash sites with bright orange tape, firefighting planes and helicopters swooped overhead to battle a brush fire started by the crash, which rekindled at the site throughout the day. One eyewitness described the instant the Boeing 737 smashed into the mountain flanked by two F-16 fighter jets sent to intercept the passenger plane after it failed to respond to radio signals. «We saw some fighter jets flying very low and after a few minutes we heard a very loud noise and saw pieces of the plane flying in the air,» said Spyros Papachristou. «There is wreckage everywhere,» Grammatiko Mayor Giorgos Papageorgiou said. «Things here are very difficult; they are indescribable.» As dusk fell, rescue vehicles began ferrying the remains, wrapped in green body bags, out of the valley and to a fleet of 17 ambulances relaying the bodies to a morgue. The crash occurred on the eve of a main religious holiday in Greece and Cyprus devoted to the Virgin Mary. A number of black-robed Greek Orthodox priests were on the scene. Crash scene investigators said most bodies appeared to be intact with some badly burnt. CEO denies resignations of technical staff; Larnaca offices sealed off Last night, Helios Airways CEO Andreas Drakos denied claims that technical staff had resigned and said the aircraft had been approved in London as airworthy. He also denied that the pilot originally scheduled to fly the plane on Sunday had refused to fly and been substituted. Helios is owned by Libra Holidays, which bought the airline last year from its founders, two Greek Cypriot brothers involved in shipping in London, where they founded the airline in 1999. «I can’t say it had a bad reputation; however, there were complaints about… technical problems,» Petros Theocharidis, a journalist at the Cypriot newspaper Fileleftheros, told Greece’s NET TV. He claimed a number of technical staff had resigned because their recommendations to replace planes had not been heeded. Meanwhile, the airline’s managing director, Dimitris Pantazis, said each victim’s family would be awarded 20,000 euros to cover immediate needs pending final compensation settlements. A Cypriot communications ministry official last night told Agence France-Presse police had sealed off Helios’s Larnaca office to protect evidence.