Cypriot Airliner Carrying 121 People Crashes


Mar 7, 2003
Updated: 08:06 AM EDT
Cypriot Airliner Carrying 121 People Crashes in Greece
Cause of Crash Remains Unknown, but Problem With Cabin Pressure Suspected

ATHENS (Aug. 14) - A Cypriot airliner carrying 115 passengers and six crew crashed north of Athens on Sunday, and emergency services and local residents were searching for survivors amid the wreckage, officials said. There were reports the pilots were unconscious when the plane went down.

The Helios Airways flight HCY 522 was headed from Larnaca, Cyprus to Athens International Airport when it crashed at about 12:20 p.m. near the coastal town of Grammatikos, about 25 miles north of the Greek capital.

The Boeing 737 was due to fly onto Prague, Czech Republic after stopping in Athens.

The cause of the crash, and any possibility of terrorism, was not immediately clear.

After losing contact with Athens' control tower, the Greek air force scrambled two F-16 fighter jets. The airliner reportedly did not respond to radio calls.

"There is wreckage everywhere. I am here, things here are very difficult, they are indescribable," Grammatikos Mayor George Papageorgiou said.

"I am looking at back tail. The fuselage has been destroyed. It fell into a chasm and there are pieces. All the residents are here trying to help."

The head of state committee for investigating airline safety, Akrivos Tsolakis, speculated that there may have been a problem with the cabin pressure.

"There apparently was a lack of oxygen which is usually the case when the cabin is depressurized," he said.

Unconfirmed media reports also said one of the pilots may have fallen ill or unconscious.

Sotiris Voutas, the first cousin of a passenger on the plane, said he received a text message from his relative on his mobile phone minutes before the crash.

"He told me the pilots were unconscious ... he said: 'My cousin I bid you farewell, we are all frozen'."

Witnesses said they saw the plane being followed by the Greek air force jets when in went down in a gorge.

Greek radio and television stations reported that the air force pilots saw no movement in the cockpit of the plane before the crash and it was unclear if the two pilots were in their seats.

"The plane crashed around 400 meters (437 yards) from homes in the area," said Miltiadis Merkouris, a spokesman for the Grammatikos municipality.

The plane did not respond to radio calls, the reports said.

Helios Airways, a privately owned airline founded in 1999, is Cyprus' first independent airline. It operates a fleet of Boeing 737 jets between Cyprus and London; Athens; Sofia, Bulgaria; Dublin, Ireland; and Strasbourg, France.
CNN's reporting that the F-16 crews observed no-one in the pilot seat and the co-pilot slumped over the controls. Oxygen masks deployed but not apparently donned.

Very strange ...
Echoes of the Learjet crash about five years ago that killed golfer Paine (sp?) Stewart and several others...