Cypriot Airliner 'Black Boxes' Sent to France

The flight recorders from the Cypriot airliner that crashed outside Athens will be sent to France for examination to determine why it went down, possibly with all 121 people on board already dead.


ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The flight recorders from the Cypriot airliner that crashed outside Athens will be sent to France for examination to determine why it went down, possibly with all 121 people on board already dead, officials said Monday.

In Cyprus, the pilots and crew of Helios Airways refused to fly after reports that passengers had complained that the Boeing 737 that crashed Sunday had experienced past technical problems. The company would not say why its crews were refusing to fly.

U.S. aviation experts were to help investigate the crash, which appeared to be caused by a technical failure that resulted in a sudden drop of air pressure. A Cypriot transport official said the 115 passengers and six crew may have been dead when the plane hit a mountainside.

As weeping relatives gathered at an Athens' morgue to identify remains, searchers were still looking for three bodies at the crash site 25 miles north of the capital, firefighting officials said. The three reportedly included the German pilot, Marten Hans Jurgen, 50, from Berlin.

Greek deputy Health Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos said 21 children were on board Helios Airways flight ZU522 from Cyprus to Athens, ''all aged 4 and above.'' Greek and Cypriot officials originally said there were 48 children. No explanation for the discrepancy was given.

According to a casualty list released by the Cypriot government, at least 10 families with children were among the dead. Most of the passengers and crew were Cypriot, but at least 12 Greeks and the German pilot were on board.

The body of the Cypriot co-pilot, Pambos Haralambous, was found in the cockpit. Greek air force F-16 pilots, who were sent to intercept the plane when it lost radio contact as it entered Greek air space, reported seeing him slumped over the controls.

Greek state television quoted the Cyprus transport minister as saying the plane had decompression problems in the past. But a Helios representative said the plane had ''no problems and was serviced just last week.''

The head of the Greek airline safety committee, Akrivos Tsolakis, said the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders would be sent to the French air safety investigators in Paris for further examination.

The voice recorder was badly damaged by the crash and ensuing fire, Tsolakis said.

''It's in a bad state and, possibly, it won't give us the information we need,'' he said. ''Both boxes will be sent to Paris where a French committee will help us and the foreign experts that are here to decode''

He expressed confidence his committee would be able to reach a conclusion ''in a few days, a very few days.''

Tsolakis said Greek investigators would be helped by U.S. experts following a request made by the American government because the aircraft was manufactured in the United States.

The pilots of the airliner had reported air conditioning system problems to Cyprus air traffic control about a half-hour after takeoff. Within minutes, after entering Greek air space over the Aegean Sea, the Boeing 737 lost all radio contact. Two Greek F-16 fighter jets were dispatched soon afterward.

When the F-16s intercepted the plane at 34,000 feet, the pilots saw the airliner's co-pilot slumped over his seat. The captain was not in the cockpit, and oxygen masks dangled inside the cabin, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

He said the air force pilots also saw two people possibly trying to take control of the plane; it was unclear if they were crew members or passengers. The plane apparently was on automatic pilot when it crashed, a Helios spokesman said.

''When a pilot has no communication with the control tower, the procedure dictates that other planes must accompany and help the plane land. Unfortunately, it appeared that the pilot was already dead as was, possibly, everyone else on the plane,'' Cyprus Transport Minister Haris Thrasou said.

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