NEWS

New aircraft doubts

Just as investigators seemed to be getting to the bottom of what happened on board the Helios airliner before it crashed north of Athens, sources told Kathimerini that four bodies rather than two – as previously thought – had been found in the cockpit. Meanwhile, a top aviation official in Nicosia claimed that no flight checks had been carried out on Cypriot aircraft for almost a year. The results of evidence gathered so far by investigators appeared to indicate that steward Andreas Prodromou was at the controls of the Boeing 737-300 when it went down in Grammatiko. However, sources suggest that four bodies were found in the cockpit, which detached from the rest of the aircraft on impact, and Prodromou was not among them, even though traces of his DNA were found there. It seems that apart from the co-pilot, who was seen by air force pilots slumped in his seat, investigators found the bodies of two stewardesses and another well-built man in the cockpit. It was not immediately clear who this man was. Until now, it has generally been accepted that Prodromou, who was a trained pilot, tried to land the plane. However, there have been questions as to why a man with his knowledge failed to communicate with the control tower or over an emergency frequency. Meanwhile, the man in charge of issuing licenses on behalf of the Cypriot Civil Aviation Authority claimed that none of the island’s aircraft had been put through safety checks in the last 10 months, even though the airlines had paid for the inspections. Charalambos Hadjigeorgiou said he made a statement to police but did not clarify why the checks had not been carried out. His comments led to more opposition criticism of the government and intensified calls for an independent inquiry to be launched. The process of identifying those killed in the crash is drawing to a close as 50 more bodies were flown to Cyprus last night. Only two of the 118 bodies recovered had yet to be officially identified by last night. It is thought that one of the bodies is that of the German captain Hans Juergen Merten. Coroners are waiting for DNA samples from his children to confirm his identity. The three remaining bodies may have been completely destroyed in the fire after the crash.