Cypriot court begins Greek air disaster trial

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This computer generated image shows the unresponsive aircraft being shadowed by Greek fighter jets

A court in Cyprus has begun the trial of defunct airline Helios and four managers over an air disaster in Greece. The five are facing a total of 1,190 charges after Flight 522 went down near Athens in 2005, killing 121 people.

All defendants entered not guilty pleas, and are alleged by prosecutors to have operated their business in an unsafe manner. It is alleged that the flight should never have been allowed to take off. As well as the company, executive chairman Andreas Drakos, managing director Demetris Pantazis, operations manager George Kikkides and head pilot Ianko Stoimenov will face a full trial when proceedings are resumed on November 27. They will return to the Nicosia court then. The charges include manslaughter and causing death via a careless act.

The route the fatal flight took

The unresponsive Boeing 737, supposed to be flying between Lanarca to Prague, had entered Greek airspace, where it was intercepted by two F-16 fighter jets on August 14, 2005.

The F-16 pilots reported the airliner's pilots were slumped over the controls. After flying on autopilot for two hours the aircraft crashed near Athens despite the efforts of a flight attendant, who was training to become a pilot, to take control and save the jet.

The subsequent investigation discovered that the pilots failed to adequately monitor the pressurisation system. The plane lost cabin pressure and hypoxia caused the incapacitation of the passengers and flight crew. It is thought that the conscious flight attendant had used multiple crew oxygen cylinders to outlast the others on board. Investigators also believe that the equipment had been left in the wrong setting after testing by maintenance engineers and never checked before flight.

After failing to resuscitate the pilot-in-command, the trainee pilot turned off the autopilot and attempted an emergency landing at Athens International Airport, which the aircraft had been circling in a holding pattern awaiting human input. However, the aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the runway.