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Cypriots To Charge Five In Helios Criminal Case

B737-300 Crash Claimed 121

Attorney General Petros Clerides of the nation of Cyprus has announced that five people will face criminal charges in 2005 airliner crash that killed 121 people.

As ANN reported, the Helios Boeing 737-300 climbed to cruise altitude, was placed on autopilot... but then flew on for more than two hours, eventually crashing into a rural hillside outside Athens, Greece on August 14, 2005.

When the airliner entered Greek airspace and failed to respond to calls, two Greek F-16s were scrambled to check it out. The military pilots reported the captain's seat was empty, and a second person was wrestling with the controls.

After a painstaking investigation, Greek officials reported the Helios pilots had failed to recognize early warnings of a drop in cabin pressure -- they believed the crew misinterpreted a cabin pressure alarm as a takeoff configuration warning -- and had failed to switch pressurization from manual to automatic in pre-flight checks.

The crew was eventually overcome by lack of oxygen.

Agence-France Presse reports relatives of victims have already filed civil suits totalling $76 million US, targeting the Cypriot government for allowing the airline to continue operating after it should have had its licence revoked for failing to meet safety standards.

The plaintiffs have also gone after Boeing, saying the company's pressurization and onboard oxygen systems have not been revised despite about 200 close calls in similar incidents in the past.

As for the criminal charges, Clerides announced, "We came to the conclusion that from the evidence collected a criminal prosecution is justified against several people whom we consider are accountable for the plane crash." He said the indictments have not yet been drafted.

Helios no longer exists. It was renamed Ajet Aviation before it ceased flight operations in late 2006.

FMI: www.ypa.gr/home/index.asp?lang=2

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