Author Topic: Cypriot crash baffles authorities  (Read 94 times)


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Cypriot crash baffles authorities
« on: August 19, 2005, 02:37:27 AM »

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The Cypriot plane that crashed and killed all 121 people aboard flew on autopilot to its Athens destination -- but passed thousands of feet (meters) above the airport runway, the chief accident investigator told The Associated Press Thursday.

Helios Airways Flight ZU522 then turned toward the sea, flying in a holding pattern for more than an hour before changing course again crashing into a mountain north of Athens.

The strange circumstances of the flight -- and disturbing scenes witnessed by F-16 fighter pilots scrambled to intercept the plane -- have baffled authorities. Officials have said there are no indications of sabotage or terrorism.

Investigators are examining whether the 115 passengers and six-member crew aboard the Boeing 737-300 had lost consciousness, possibly just after takeoff. The aircraft appears to have flown from Cyprus to Athens on autopilot -- a flight of about an hour and a half.

Chief investigator Akrivos Tsolakis told the AP an air traffic control diagram showed the plane had flown -- on automatic pilot -- to the Greek capital's international airport. But it was flying at 34,000 feet (10,360 meters) and turned south into its holding pattern over the island of Kea after passing over the airport.

"What troubles us is that the automatic pilot was functioning up to a certain point, and then it was disengaged, possibly by human action," Tsolakis said.

He said the automatic pilot had been programed to fly the plane up to Athens' airport. He said it was unclear how or why it was disengaged.

"Possibly, there was human intervention. I'm not speaking with certainty, because I don't have all the evidence yet," Tsolakis stressed.

The plane later turned northward and eventually crashed into a mountainside north of Athens, sparking a major brush fire which burned through much of the debris and charred many bodies beyond recognition.

According to the government, the two F-16 fighter pilots -- who first established visual contact with the plane while it was flying above of Kea -- reported seeing the co-pilot slumped over the controls, apparently unconscious.

They said the pilot was not in his seat, and they also later saw what appeared to be two people trying to regain control of the plane. Oxygen masks were seen dangling from the ceiling of the passenger cabin, the government said the F-16 pilots reported.

Tsolakis said investigators were still examining the possibility that those on board were knocked unconscious by sudden cabin decompression.

A six-member team of coroners was also conducting toxicology tests on some of the bodies to determine whether the passengers and crew might have inhaled something -- possibly carbon monoxide -- that rendered them unconscious. Results of those tests were expected by the weekend.

But if the results were negative, coroners would not be able to rule out that some other factor could have made people on board lose consciousness, coroner Nikos Kalogrias explained.

A total of 118 bodies have been recovered from the crash site. Crews were still searching for three bodies, but Kalogrias told The Associated Press they might never be found.

"This is, unfortunately, the consequence sometimes of the impact of a plane crash," he said.

Autopsy results on 26 bodies identified so far have shown passengers and at least four crew members -- including the co-pilot -- were alive, but not necessarily conscious, when the plane went down. The body of the plane's German pilot has not been identified, and it is unclear whether he is one of the three still missing.

Some answers could be provided by the contents of the plane's flight data recorder, or black box, which has been sent to Paris for decoding. Tsolakis said he expected to receive some results from France later Thursday.

France's Inquiry and Analysis Bureau (BEA), which was analyzing the recorder, said the box "was exposed to fire but its external appearance shows no deformations linked to the impact."

However, the BEA stressed it would not disclose any information from the analysis as Greece was handling the investigation.

Tsolakis has he has never encountered such a case. "In my career, going back 50 years as an airman and as a safety officer, I have never seen anything that resembles this," he said.

But he said investigators had received almost all the information they needed from Greece, Cyprus, Britain and other European countries about the airline company, the plane's maintenance record, the history of the pilot and co-pilot and accident statistics, and could have preliminary results in about 10 days.

Authorities have still not released the full account of what the fighter pilots saw, or anything about the passenger jet's final 23 minutes of flight.

No Compute

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Re: Cypriot crash baffles authorities
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2005, 03:39:12 AM »
Never rely on a machine to do a mans job.