NEWS

Desperate attempt to land doomed aircraft

Someone tried to land the Cypriot Helios Airlines plane just moments before its crash north of Athens on Sunday at noon, not far from the Athens airport, two fighter pilots have reported. According to information obtained by Kathimerini from reliable Defense Ministry sources, the pilots of the two F-16 planes that had been sent to intercept the plane as soon as it was declared a «renegade plane» by the Athens flight control tower, reported that they saw a person active in the cockpit. That person even tried to communicate via hand signals with one of the pilots, sources said. The pilots could not identify whether that person was one of the pilots, a steward or even a passenger. Two days after the crash, which killed all 121 passengers and crew aboard Helios Airways Flight ZU522 from Larnaca, Cyprus, authorities were still searching for clues as to the cause. The original explanation, a sudden drop in cabin pressure that caused the passengers and crew to freeze to death, has been challenged by the findings of the autopsies performed on 26 victims by late yesterday afternoon. Forensic specialists said all 26 were alive at the time of the crash, though this does not necessarily mean they were conscious. Toxicology tests will also be performed to determine whether there was a problem with the cabin oxygen. Last night, a C-130 army transport aircraft left for Larnaca carrying the bodies of 23 of the victims. With the exception of the German pilot and 16 Greek citizens, the rest of the 121 victims were Greek Cypriots. Greek and international experts have called the crash, the worst ever in Greek air space, one of the most mysterious in the annals of aeronautics. Besides the causes of the accident, attention focused yesterday on the safety record of Helios Airways, as well as on the competence of the Cypriot Civil Aviation Authority. According to sources, four crew members, a co-pilot and three stewards refused, on Saturday night, to board the Boeing 737-300 aircraft, considering it unsafe. It has also been said that the plane had not been checked by the Civil Aviation Authority over the last eight months, despite a record of mechanical failures. The investigation may also have political repercussions; a former minister sits on Helios Airways’ board.