Five charged over Helios disaster

Prosecutors in Nicosia yesterday filed criminal charges against five people in connection with a Cypriot airplane crash near Athens three years ago that killed 121 people. Four senior executives of the now defunct Helios Airways and its chief pilot could face life terms if found guilty of the manslaughter of the 121 passengers and crew of the Boeing 737-300 which crashed into a hillside at Grammatiko on the outskirts of Athens in August 2005. The four defendants are to be summoned to answer the charges in February, deputy attorney general Akis Papasavvas said yesterday. The main charge being leveled against the suspects is manslaughter, which carries a life sentence. But they are also charged with causing death through neglect, which carries a four-year jail term. Relatives of the dead have lobbied for years for criminal action against those responsible for the crash that occured after the plane ran out of oxygen, causing passengers and pilots to fall unconscious. The aircraft flew on autopilot for two hours before running out of fuel and crashing. The pilots of two Greek fighter jets, scrambled to trail the incoming plane, said they saw a flight attendant in the cockpit – probably the only person aboard still conscious – trying to avert the disaster. The victims’ relatives have also lodged a civil suit, claiming that Cyprus’s aviation authority shared the blame for the malfunction that led to the crash. An inquiry by Greek authorities published in October 2006 blamed the crash on a pre-flight inspection that failed to detect that a gauge regulating oxygen to the aircraft was on the wrong setting, as well as on the pilots’ failure to notice that the aircraft was running out of oxygen. Helios Airways was renamed Ajet Aviation in 2006 but the latter firm folded in the same year.

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