Safety checks ordered on Cypriot airline’s fleet

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Helios Airways, operator of the Cyprus airliner which crashed last Sunday killing all 121 on board, announced on Friday it was sending its remaining two Boeing 737s to Sweden for safety checks. «The company is not grounding its fleet. It will continue flying but we thought it was better to do this to help restore people’s confidence and to stop any rumors and fear-mongering,» Helios spokeswoman Vicky Xitas told Reuters. The move came hours after a Helios flight from Cyprus to Luton airport was diverted because the pilot believed there was a problem with the aircraft’s flaps. Last Sunday, a Helios Airways Boeing 737 carrying 115 passengers and six crew crashed into mountains near Athens on a flight from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague with a stop in Athens. «It (the Luton landing) was not an emergency landing, it’s what’s called a ‘local standby,’» Xitas said, noting that the plane had landed safely. Xitas said the first of Helios’s two remaining Boeings would be flown yesterday to Sweden, where it will undergo a two-day check under the supervision of Boeing experts. The aircraft will remain in service until then, and the company will charter a replacement plane while it is being checked. Xitas said the second Boeing would be sent to Sweden when the first returns to service, probably tomorrow. Helios’s third remaining aircraft is a leased Airbus that does not carry the company logo. Autopsy tests Investigators hope autopsy tests on the victims of last Sunday’s crash will shed some light on why the pilot, co-pilot and many passengers on the Boeing 737 were apparently unconscious before the crash. Helios, established in 1999 and owned by Libra Holidays Group, one of Britain’s top independent holiday tour operators, has defended its record but revealed the crashed plane had a previous cabin pressure problem. It said that last December the plane had to swiftly descend from 34,000 feet – the height at which the plane was known to be in trouble last Sunday – to 11,000 feet during a flight from Warsaw to Larnaca. Helios flies mainly holidaymakers to Athens, Greek islands, Dublin, Sofia, Warsaw, Prague, Strasbourg and British airports.