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Wed, Aug 17, 2005

Helios Mishap 'Peculiar'

Same Aircraft Lost Cabin Pressure Last Year

The president of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, told mourning families Wednesday the crash of a Helios 737-300 in Greece Sunday was "peculiar," saying there was only one other aviation mishap like it to his knowledge. This, as the investigation into the bizarre crash continued to turn up more questions than answers.

"This is a peculiar accident. From my information sources there has only been one other of this kind," he said after meeting Greek officials Wednesday. Papadopoulos was quoted by Reuters.

He was apparently referring to the 1999 crash of a Learjet involving PGA golfer Payne Stewart. As ANN has extensively reported, Stewart and five other people died when their Lear 35 apparently lost cabin pressure on a flight from Orlando to Dallas. The aircraft, trailed by Oklahoma and North Dakota ANG F-16s, eventually ran out of fuel and crashed in North Dakota.

In the Helios mishap, many of the 121 passengers and crew, however, didn't die before impact, according to coroners' reports. Autopsies on the bodies of the copilot and a flight attendant indicated they were still breathing when the aircraft impacted the ground.

But mysteries abound. Where was the pilot? He wasn't in the cockpit at the time of impact, according to investigators. His body has yet to be found. Why didn't the crew immediately descend once they started losing cabin pressure? Why did crew members apparently disregard oxygen masks dangling just above them?

Cypriot authorities, meanwhile, were contemplating criminal charges against Helios executives. The airline admitted Wednesday that the same 737-300 had lost cabin pressure once before, approximately a year ago. Search teams have recovered the flight data recorder and parts of the cockpit voice recorder. Both have been taken to France for examination.

FMI: www.flyhelios.com

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