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Mon, Aug 15, 2005

Black Boxes, Bodies Recovered From Greek Crash Site

Most Were "Frozen Solid," According To Rescuers

ANN REAL TIME NEWS: 0820 EDT -- Cyprus-based Helios Airways has grounded all flights in the wake of Saturday's fatal crash near Athens.

ANN Contributor Nathan Morley is in Cyprus. By clicking here, you can listen to his report.

"The company did this of its own volition after the strength of public opinion," a Helios spokesman told Reuters.

As Greek recovery teams sifted through the wreckage of a Helios Airlines 737 that went down on Sunday, they reported finding bodies that were "frozen solid" after the plane suffered what appeared to be a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure and heat, authorities said. The Cypriot aircraft's black boxes were recovered and investigators hoped to find they would provide some insight into the mishap, which killed all 121 people on board.

Early speculation centered on the air conditioning system aboard the 737. Before becoming incapacitated, the pilot radioed the air conditioning system was malfunctioning. Greek authorities, who had declared the aircraft a "renegade" and scrambled F-16 fighters to intercept, said terrorism had been ruled out as the cause of the accident.

"The situation was characterized renegade, meaning the aircraft was not under the control of the pilots," Roussopoulos told reporters. At a later stage, the F-16s saw two individuals in the cockpit seemingly trying to regain control of the airplane," Greek government spokesman Theodore Roussopoulos told Reuters. It was not known if the two people in the cockpit were passengers or crew members.

"The F-16s also saw oxygen masks down when they got close to the aircraft. The aircraft was making continuous right-hand turns to show it had lost radio contact," Roussopoulos said. "A passenger on the doomed plane said in an SMS text to his cousin in Athens: "The pilot has turned blue. Cousin farewell, we're freezing."

The Cypriot aircraft was on a flight from Larnaca to Athens, then on to Prague. Ninety minutes after the aircraft was declared "renegade," it went down in the mountains near Athens.

Callers to Cypriot media outlets said they had experienced trouble with the cabin heat on board recent Helios flights. One man said, while he was on a flight from Prague last week, the cabin temperature dropped remarkably in a span of about 20-minutes. The cabin crew handed out blankets and the plane -- possibly the same aircraft that crashed Sunday, according to the caller, landed safely.

Helios executives said the aircraft was maintained, certified problem-free and allowed to fly again.

As the investigation into Sunday's mishap continues, passengers and crew members are clearly spooked about Helios. On Monday, about 100 passengers bound from Larnaca to Sofia, Bulgaria, refused to board the Helios 737 -- after the crew refused as well.

FMI: www.flyhelios.com

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