121 killed as Cypriot airliner crashes in Greece - U2 Feedback

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Old 08-14-2005, 03:30 PM   #1
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121 killed as Cypriot airliner crashes in Greece

Pilots reportedly unconscious, possibly because of a lack of oxygen in cabin

A Cypriot airliner crashes near the town of Grammatiko in Greece, killing all 121 people on board.

Updated: 5:36 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2005
GRAMMATIKO, Greece - A Cypriot plane full of vacationers slammed into a mountainside north of Athens on Sunday after at least one pilot lost consciousness from lack of oxygen, killing all 121 people aboard, more than a third of them children.

The cause of Greece’s deadliest plane crash appeared to be technical failure — resulting in high-altitude decompression — and not terrorism, authorities said. A transport official said the 115 passengers and six crew may have been dead when the plane went down.

Helios Airways flight ZU522 was headed from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Athens International Airport when it crashed at 12:05 p.m. near Grammatiko, a scenic village 25 miles north of the Greek capital. Flaming debris, luggage and bits of human remains were strewn across two ravines and surrounding hills.

About a half-hour after takeoff, pilots reported air-conditioning system problems to Cyprus air traffic control. Within minutes, after entering Greek air space over the Aegean, the Boeing 737 lost all radio contact. Two Greek F-16 fighter jets were dispatched soon afterward.

When the F-16s intercepted the plane, jet pilots could see the co-pilot slumped over his seat. The captain was not in the cockpit, and oxygen masks dangled inside the cabin, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

He said the jet pilots also saw two people possibly trying to take control of the plane; it was unclear if they were crew members or passengers. The plane apparently was on automatic pilot when it crashed, Helios spokesman Marios Konstantinidis said in Cyprus.

“When a pilot has no communication with the control tower, the procedure dictates that other planes must accompany and help the plane land. Unfortunately, it appeared that the pilot was already dead as was, possibly, everyone else on the plane,” Cyprus Transport Minister Haris Thrasou said.

‘A very loud noise’
A witness described the instant the airline smashed into the 1,500-foot-high mountain, flanked by the F-16s. “We saw some fighter jets flying very low and after a few minutes we heard a very loud noise and saw pieces of the plane flying in the air,” said Spyros Papachristou.

The head of the Greek airline safety committee, Akrivos Tsolakis, said the crash was the “worst accident we’ve ever had.” He said the plane’s black boxes had been recovered, containing data and voice recordings valuable for determining the cause

“There apparently was a lack of oxygen, which is usually the case when the cabin is depressurized,” Tsolakis said.

The F-16 jets met the plane at 34,000 feet, the Greek air force said. At that altitude, the effects of depressurization are swift, said David Kaminski Morrow, of the British-based Air Transport Intelligence magazine.

“If the aircraft is at 30,000 feet, you don’t stay conscious for long, maybe 15 to 30 seconds,” he said. “But if you are down at 10,000 feet, you can breathe for a lot longer.”

The flight was to have continued to Prague, Czech Republic, after stopping in Athens. This is the height of Europe’s summer travel season, when Mediterranean resorts like Cyprus are packed with tourists. The area was likely to be particularly crowded, because Monday is a national holiday in Greece and Cyprus.

There were 48 children aboard, mostly Greek Cypriots, Helios spokesman Giorgos Dimitriou said in Athens.

Greek state television quoted the Cyprus transport minister as saying the plane had decompression problems in the past. However, Helios representative Dimitriou said the plane had “no problems and was serviced just last week.”

On Cyprus, several callers to radio and television programs said they experienced severe air-conditioning problems on Helios jets in recent months. Some said the cabin was freezing and the crew provided blankets; others said it became unbearably hot.

Similar crash
Sudden loss of pressure was blamed for a crash in South Dakota in 1999, of a Learjet 35 carrying pro golfer Payne Stewart and four others. They became unconscious, and the jet went down after flying halfway across the country on autopilot.

In June 2000, a Boeing 737-200 of the Canadian carrier WestJet lost cabin pressure because pilots mistakenly shut down auxiliary power. Cabin altitude reached 24,000 feet before the plane descended and pressurization became normal. None of the 118 passengers was injured.

At the Greek crash scene, more than 100 firefighters, backed by planes and helicopters dropping water, fought a brush fire caused by the crash. The plane was in at least three pieces: the tail, a bit of the cockpit and a piece of fuselage that witnesses said contained many bodies. Sections of the plane were ablaze.

Fire department rescue vehicles carried body bags up the steep slopes of the charred valley to a fleet of ambulances. None of the bodies had masks on their faces, the fire department said. Black-robed Greek Orthodox priests were on hand.

“There is wreckage everywhere. Things here are very difficult, they are indescribable,” Grammatiko Mayor George Papageorgiou said. “All the residents are here trying to help.”

Relatives from Cyprus were to be taken a reception center near the Athens airport, but the remains of many victims were charred beyond identification. The Cyprus transport minister said DNA tests would be necessary.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis canceled a holiday on the Aegean island of Tinos to return to Athens. The Cypriot president also canceled a vacation.

Helios Airways, Cyprus’ first private airline, was founded in 1999. It operates a fleet of Boeing 737s to cities including London; Athens; Sofia, Bulgaria; Dublin, Ireland; and Strasbourg, France. EU newcomer Cyprus is divided into Turkish and Greek sectors. Most of its 800,000 people are Greek Cypriots.

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Old 08-14-2005, 03:32 PM   #2
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I saw this...it's terrible.

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Old 08-14-2005, 03:38 PM   #3
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oh my gosh
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Old 08-14-2005, 03:41 PM   #4
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This is simply horrific.

[q]Greece crash plane may already have been flying tomb

By Brian Williams 58 minutes ago

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Cypriot airliner that crashed in Greece may already have been a flying tomb when it plunged to earth with some of the 121 people aboard already either dead or unconscious, early indications suggest.

Sunday's crash, the worst air disaster in Greece and the worst involving a Cypriot airline, perplexed aviation experts astounded by what appeared to have been a catastrophic failure of cabin pressure and or oxygen supply at 35,000 feet -- nearly 10 kilometers (six miles) up, higher than
Mount Everest.

There was also mystery over the last minutes of the Helios Airlines Boeing 737 flight which was declared "renegade" when it entered Greek air space and failed to make radio contact, causing two F-16 air force jets to scramble to investigate.

All 115 passengers and six crew died, most burned beyond visual recognition, when the plane, with neither pilot in control, spiraled down in a death dive into a mountainous area about 40 km north of Athens.

The plane was on a flight from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague with a stop in Athens. An airline spokeswoman and Greek authorities denied some media reports that many of those on board were children.

Airport officials in Cyprus said flight HCY522 left Larnaca at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Sunday and lost contact at 10:30 a.m.

Greek Defense Ministry officials said 90 minutes elapsed between the alert first being raised at 10:30 a.m. and the plane crashing at 12:03 p.m.

Greek government spokesman Theodore Roussopoulos said the F-16 pilots sent to investigate reported that with the pilots out of action there may have been a last-gasp effort by others on the plane to bring it back under control.

"The situation was characterized renegade, meaning the aircraft was not under the control of the pilots," Roussopoulos told reporters, explaining how the crisis unfolded after the plane failed to make radio contact.

"At a later stage, the F-16s saw two individuals in the cockpit seemingly trying to regain control of the airplane," Roussoupoulos said.

"The F-16s also saw oxygen masks down when they got close to the aircraft. The aircraft was making continuous right-hand turns to show it had lost radio contact."

A passenger on the doomed plane said in an SMS text to his cousin in Athens: "The pilot has turned blue. Cousin farewell, we're freezing."


Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis reported from the crash site that dozens of bodies were still strapped into their seats, some with the remnants of oxygen masks over their faces.

"Two charred bodies were still hugging each other," he said.

The plane broke into many pieces on impact, with the two engines 500 meters away from each other, the cockpit a further 200 metros away and the tail broken off a further distance away.

Greece's defense ministry said it suspected the plane's oxygen supply or pressurization system may have malfunctioned.

Loss of cabin pressure was identified as the probable cause of two similar but smaller-scale air crashes in recent years.

Pro-golfer Payne Stewart and five others were killed when their Learjet aircraft crashed in the United States in 1999 after flying for more than four hours without radio contact.

In 2000 a plane crashed in Australia after flying for more than an hour from 25,000 feet up with no sign of life on board.

Experts told Reuters it was extremely rare for a plane to lose oxygen, and that emergency systems should have kicked in.

"The pilots should have had their masks on," a retired British pilot who did not wish to be named told Reuters. "Why they didn't put them on is the big mystery."

"A loss of pressurization in the cabin is in itself a rare event but to go as far as it incapacitates the pilot is hugely rare," the retired pilot said.

Greek media speculated a toxic gas from possible faulty air-conditioning could have incapacitated the two pilots before they knew they were in danger.

One of the F-16 pilots said he could not see the captain in the cockpit and his co-pilot appeared to be slumped in his seat.

A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency, Daniel Holtgen, based in Cologne, Germany, said the cause of the crash was likely to be a combination of factors:

"It is highly unlikely that the loss of cabin pressure alone would cause such an incident. There would have to be other contributing factors." [/q]
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Old 08-14-2005, 06:47 PM   #5
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A passenger on the doomed plane said in an SMS text to his cousin in Athens: "The pilot has turned blue. Cousin farewell, we're freezing."
This is frightening! Imagine getting a text message like that.

I am trying to figure out how the cockpit crew lost consciousness before other passengers...and why they did not put on their oxygen masks.
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Old 08-15-2005, 03:34 AM   #6
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Horrific. The plane was only 15 months old, wasn't it?
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Old 08-15-2005, 04:40 AM   #7
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Originally posted by zonelistener
I am trying to figure out how the cockpit crew lost consciousness before other passengers...and why they did not put on their oxygen masks.
Failure of the oxygen mask system? Panic by the flight crew? Would a pilot leave the flight deck in this situation?
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Old 08-15-2005, 05:13 AM   #8
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I heard that the plane already had problems earlier ...

that's awful, so many crashes these last days
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Old 08-15-2005, 05:50 AM   #9
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how awful.

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Old 08-15-2005, 06:20 AM   #10
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I just read where the passengers froze to death before the plane even crashed. This is certainly a weird scenario.

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Old 08-15-2005, 06:22 AM   #11
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That company's been having trouble with their planes. This is terrible.
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Old 08-15-2005, 10:45 AM   #12
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I HATE planes.
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Old 08-15-2005, 06:04 PM   #13
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II haven't read anything about the age of the plane. The airline may have recently "Taken delivery" of this aircraft...but that doesn't mean it is new. There are so many planes out there that get leased and released. Even my own airline has planes in their fleet that flew with airlines that haven't exsisted since before U2 started.

O2 system seems like the failure. I have no idea why a captain would leave a cockpit.

I heard today they arrested the guy who said he received the text message. guess he lied.

I was chatting with bonosgirl84 last night. I reminded her of how safe air travel is compared to driving. YOU as an individual might not be in control, but, take these facts into account:

~ FAA retires pilots at 60. Most states will allow your 90 year-old neighbor drive if he/she could pass the vision test.

~ Your other neighbor...the 15 year old girl who thinks she can text message and drive 70 in a 35 MPH zone...she isn't flying your commercial airliner.

~ FAA strictly monitors aircraft maintenance. Airplanes go through scheduled maintenance every week. THe guy driving next to you (shaving and drinking coffee at the same time)...you have NO idea what is wrong with his engine and god only knows the last time he rotating his tires and got am oil change.

~ ANY clown can get in a car after seven drinks and attempt driving (on the road with you and your family). Now imagine having the same number of drinks and walking through security with a pilots uniform on. Hell, we wouldn't let a passenger fly like that.
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Old 08-15-2005, 06:08 PM   #14
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Originally posted by zonelistener

This is frightening! Imagine getting a text message like that.

I am trying to figure out how the cockpit crew lost consciousness before other passengers...and why they did not put on their oxygen masks.
apparently that was a sick hoax.

[q]Greek Man Nabbed for Lying About Message

Mon Aug 15, 3:17 PM ET

THESSALONIKI, Greece - Police in northern Greece on Monday arrested a man who claimed to have received a telephone text message from a passenger on board a Cypriot airliner that crashed north of Athens, killing 121 people.

Police identified the man as Nektarios-Sotirios Voutas, 32.

Voutas had called Greek television stations shortly after the Helios Airways flight crashed into a mountainous region north of the capital Sunday, saying his cousin, who he identified as Nikos Petridis, was on board.

He claimed his cousin had sent him a cell-phone text message minutes before the crash saying: "Farewell, cousin, here we're frozen."

The report that the plane was cold was taken as a sign of decompression — one of the possible explanations authorities have given for the crash, which was Greece's deadliest. But police in Thessaloniki said they had determined he was lying, and there was no Petridis on the Cypriot government's official list of victims.

Voutas, a resident of the northern port city of Thessaloniki who had identified himself to Greek media as Sotiris Voutas, faced charges of disseminating false information and causing a public disturbance, police said. He was scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, they said[/q]

more news
[q]Greek Crash Puzzles U.S. Aviation Experts

By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 42 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - U.S. aviation experts say they can't understand the behavior of the flight crew aboard a Cypriot airliner that crashed north of Athens after flying on autopilot for what could have been hours.

Early reports indicated the Helios Airways jet lost cabin pressure. Temperatures and oxygen levels would have plummeted and left everyone aboard unconscious and freezing to death as the plane flew on autopilot long before it crashed, experts said Monday.

But if there had been a sudden decompression, experts say, the pilots and the flight attendants for some reason didn't react the way they were trained to.

"It's odd," said Terry McVenes, executive air safety chairman for the
Air Line Pilots Association, International. "It's a very rare event to even have a pressurization problem and in general crews are very well trained to deal with it."

The plane was fairly new, a Boeing 737-300 delivered in January 1998, according to company spokesman Jim Proulx. The flight data recorder that came with the aircraft records 128 kinds of data about the plane, he said.

Investigators were sending the plane's data and cockpit voice recorders to France for expert examinations.

The aircraft flew into Greek airspace, but air traffic controllers couldn't raise the pilots on the radio and fighter jets intercepted the plane, flying at 34,000 feet.

The fighter pilots saw that the airline pilot wasn't in the cockpit, the co-pilot was slumped over his seat and oxygen masks dangled, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said. He said the air force pilots also saw two people possibly trying to take control of the plane.

It is that sequence of events that puzzles aviation experts.

Warnings should go off if an airliner suddenly loses pressure, and pilots are trained to immediately put their oxygen masks on and dive to about 12,000 feet, where there's enough oxygen for people to breathe, they say.

If a cabin loses pressure suddenly, passengers and flight crew have only seconds to put on oxygen masks before losing consciousness. Death would follow quickly.

The chief Athens coroner, though, said at least six of the victims were alive at the time of the crash.

The pilots also didn't report any windows out or holes in the fuselage, the most likely causes of a catastrophic loss of pressure, said Bill Waldock, an aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona.

Another clue to a sudden pressure loss would have been frost on the windows because it's so cold at 34,000 feet, said Waldock.

If the fighter pilots could see into the cockpit, the windows couldn't have been iced over, as they were in the 1999 crash of a Learjet 35 that killed golfer Payne Stewart. Investigators blamed that crash on a sudden decompression.

Paul Czysz, emeritus professor of aerospace engineering at St. Louis University, wonders why the co-pilot was slumped over.

"He couldn't have been unconscious for a small decompression at 34,000 feet," Czysz said. "Something's amiss."

The pilot and the co-pilot would have had five times as much oxygen as the passengers, he said.

"Even if the pressurization system was failing, it doesn't fail instantaneously. Even if it goes fast, you can seal the cabin, you've got all the oxygen in the cabin to breathe, you've got the masks and you've got plenty of time to get to 12,000 feet," Czysz said.

Jim Hall, former chairman of the
National Transportation Safety Board, said it's possible the oxygen in the cockpit failed. He noted that the NTSB has been concerned about the ability of pilots to get their masks on quickly enough.

"The accident did not have to occur," Hall said. "It has to be either a training issue or an equipment issue."

He's worried that the answer won't be found because the cockpit voice recorder probably recorded over itself after 30 minutes. Since the plane was in the air on autopilot for so long, it probably won't provide any information, he said. [/q]
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Old 08-15-2005, 06:12 PM   #15
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Originally posted by zonelistener
~ FAA strictly monitors aircraft maintenance. Airplanes go through scheduled maintenance every week. THe guy driving next to you (shaving and drinking coffee at the same time)...you have NO idea what is wrong with his engine and god only knows the last time he rotating his tires and got am oil change.
I'm forced to say that this is not so much the case anymore. An inspector who works for an airline said to someone I know personally that most airlines these days have outsourced their inspections and maintenance to places like Singapore. However, some American inspectors do exist, and when they had inspected a plane that had not been inspected in the U.S. for six years, it had 6,000 violations. But in Singapore, it had "passed" every time.

I'm quite afraid that too much time has passed now since 9/11, and we're starting to go back to our usual pattern of behavior: corporations doing anything to save a buck and the government looking the other way. Seeing this latest rash of plane crashes makes me afraid of the near future.


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