Scary as hell!
Greek plane crash firm grounds all planes
08:06am 15th August 2005
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Crash: Black boxes have been located
The budget airline which is popular with Brits has grounded all of its planes in the wake of the crash of one of its Boeing 737 aircraft on Sunday, which killed of all 121 passengers and crew on board.
Many of the bodies recovered from the Greece plane crash were 'frozen solid' after a catastrophic drop in cabin pressure at 35,000ft.
The report reinforces expert opinion that the 121 passengers froze to death at minus 50c after a catastrophic drop in cabin pressure at 35,000ft.
Investigators will today examine the black boxes of the ill-fated flight ZU 522, in a bid to find out exactly what happened on the Helios Airways flight - an airline which carries thousands of Britons on budget trips to Cyprus.
In particular they will want to know why a back-up oxygen supply system for the cockpit crew in the Helios Airways flight apparently failed to work.
The investigators may also draw on the case of the October 1999 Lear Jet crash in American in which top golfer Payne Stewart died.
"The crew could have been overcome very, very quickly if all the systems failed. It may have taken less than 20 seconds," said David Kaminski-Morrow, deputy news editor of internet news service Air Transport Intelligence.
He went on: "The pilots should have had access to a back-up oxygen supply. Planes do sometimes lose cabin pressure and it is a well-practised routine for the crew and passengers to don oxygen masks and for the pilots to take the plane down to an altitude where oxygen levels are all right."
All 121 people on board the flight, including 48 children, are believed to have been killed after the Boeing 737 ploughed into a hill in a mountainous region north of Athens yesterday morning.
The only piece of the plane that remained intact was the tail, with bodies, clothing, and luggage scattered around the wreckage, itself strewn over the hill and into a ravine. Fire chief Christos Smetis said there were no survivors among the 115 passengers and six crew on board the plane.
The devastated families were being given confirmation of the deaths of their loved ones last night at Larnaca airport, a spokesman for the airline said.
The British Foreign Office said it was unable to confirm any passenger details, and the airline spokesman could not say whether any Britons had been on the flight. A colleague said most of the passengers were Greek Cypriots.
In a statement, he said: "Unfortunately, our flight 522 from Larnaca to Athens and Prague carrying 115 passengers and six crew members crashed north of Athens at approximately 12.20pm (10.20am UK time).
He added: "Our thoughts are with the families of those on board at this very difficult time, and we are doing absolutely everything we can within our power to keep people informed about this accident."
The cause of the crash was unclear, but first indications were that it was apparently due to some type of technical problem - possibly decompression.
The head of the Greek airline safety committee, Akrivos Tsolakis, described it as the "worst accident we've ever had", and speculated that there may have been a problem with the cabin pressure.
After losing touch with the Athens control tower, the Greek air force scrambled two F-16 fighter jets, reports said - standard procedure after an aircraft entering the country's airspace does not respond to radio calls.
Greece's Alpha television channel said Greek air force officials reported that the fighter pilots that intercepted the plane over the Aegean Sea saw one of the pilots slumped unconscious over the controls. They also reported that there was no movement in the cabin.
Sotiris Voutas, a cousin of one of the passengers on the plane, told Alpha that he received a text message from the cousin on his mobile phone minutes before the crash. "He told me the pilots were unconscious ... he said, 'Farewell, cousin, here we're frozen'."
Greek state television quoted Cyprus transport minister Haris Thrasou as saying the plane had problems with decompression in the past. UK- and Cyprus-registered tour operator Libra Holidays Group bought Helios last year.
The low-cost carrier was established as the first independent privately-owned airline in Cyprus in 1999, and operated its first chartered flight to Gatwick in May 2000.
Just a year later, in summer 2001, it fended off competition from more established services when it was deemed to have the best punctuality record of a charter airline which conducted at least 100 flights on ten routes from nine UK airports.
According to the Air Transport Users Council report, between April and October 2001, just 5.6% of Helios flights were more than one hour late and average delays were 13.6 minutes.
Its mission statement pledges: "To operate a profitable low budget airline that will provide to its passengers the highest possible safety, competitive fares and superior level of service."
Steady expansion in routes now mean its small fleet of Boeing B737s operates scheduled flights from Larnaca and Paphos to a range of airports, the majority of which are in the UK, and include Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham, Belfast and Dublin.
Charter service bases are more limited, operating from Humberside, Teeside and Newcastle, as well as other European cities.
An emergency number - 00 357 22 446146 - has been issued for families worried their relatives were on board.
In a statement, plane maker Boeing said: "Boeing offers heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of those who were lost on board the Helios Airways 737, which crashed August 14 near Athens, Greece.
"Boeing is sending a team to provide technical assistance to the investigating authorities."