Cyprus vows to solve crash mystery as anger boils over

LARNACA – Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos vowed yesterday to do everything in his power to solve the mystery of the Helios plane crash, as anger grew over the airline’s handling of the tragedy. «I want to assure the Cypriot people the government will make every effort to investigate the cause of this accident,» Papadopoulos told reporters. The cause of the worst air crash in the island’s history remains a mystery. Memorial ceremonies were being held across the island during a three-day mourning period as relatives of some of the victims prepared to bring their loved ones home from Greece for burial. «We will not hesitate to call in independent EU experts for a complete investigation… we are determined to find out what happened and apportion blame to anybody who is found responsible for this tragedy,» Papadopoulos said. He was speaking as anger among the grieving relatives of victims of the air crash reached boiling point at Helios’s offices in Nicosia, as press reports spoke of tragic stories of entire families being wiped out and children losing their parents. «We’re not murderers. We’re trying to help everyone, but we’re getting a lot of abuse and aggression against our staff from a lot of people,» said Helios commercial manager Vicky Nemitsas Xitas. She added that two members of the airline’s staff had lost relatives in the crash. One worker fainted after being verbally abused by a seething relative and at least one other was seen wearing black clothing as a sign of mourning. A police car was guarding the front entrance of the airline’s Nicosia offices yesterday, the morning after police said they raided the low-cost airline’s two main offices. Local media reports said documents and computers were taken from the offices in both Nicosia and Larnaca in the raids after a search warrant was issued as part of a criminal investigation. «Hopefully whatever evidence is related to the crash is now in our hands,» Cyprus police chief Tassos Panayiotou told reporters. «We have taken a number of statements from people who have a link to the flight and any problems that are related to the company.» Helios executive chairman Andreas Drakou has strongly rejected any suggestions the low-cost airline had skimped on safety and the company has insisted it is cooperating with police. The company said on its website that all Helios Airways flights were operating as scheduled. The mystery over what caused the crash deepened after it emerged a flight attendant had been in the cockpit when it went down, possibly trying to gain control after the pilots were incapacitated. Cypriot Health Minister Andreas Gavrielides said co-pilot Pambos Charalambous, 51, had been identified but that the German captain, Marten Hans Jurgen, 50, had still not been found. «We don’t know if he is still among the three people yet to be recovered because nobody has shown up in Greece yet to identify the pilot,» Gavrielides said, adding 24 of the 45 bodies had been identified and their bodies were expected to be flown back to Cyprus yesterday. The tragedy has brought the divided island closer together, with the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north offering its condolences. Newspapers in the north had reported the Turkish side was «sharing the anguish felt by the families of the victims» while all flags were ordered to fly half-mast on all public buildings.