Cyprus charges five over 2005 air crash that killed 121

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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

Cypriot prosecutors have charged five people over the 2005 crash of Helios Airways Flight 522. The loss of the Boeing 737 killed all 121 people on board in what was the deadliest air disaster for both Greece and Cyprus.

"The charge sheet was submitted to the court [in Nicosia] today [Tuesday], and a response to the charges has been set for February 26," said deputy attorney general Akis Papasavvas. The names of those charged were not released, and they face charges of manslaughter and causing death by a reckless, thoughtless or dangerous act, which carry life and four year terms respectively. They all worked for Helios.

"The charges concern two of the three most serious offences under the Cyprus penal code," said Papasavvas. Families of the victims, who had already called for criminal prosecutions, are still carrying out a civil action against the Cypriot civil aviation authority and airframer Boeing. Helios closed in 2006, having been renamed Ajet Airways.

The route the fatal flight took

The unresponsive aircraft, supposed to be flying between Lanarca to Prague, 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.