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Downed Cypriot Jet Had Previous Technical Problem

Cabin pressure was lost on a flight before the one that crashed in Greece, killing 121.

August 17, 2005|From Associated Press

ATHENS — Investigators trying to determine why a Cypriot airliner crashed in the Greek mountains focused Tuesday on reports of previous technical problems, with Cyprus' transport minister and a former airline mechanic saying the jet had lost cabin pressure on another flight.

Greek state TV quoted the transport minister as saying the plane had previous decompression problems. Decompression would cause a rapid loss of oxygen on board, giving passengers and flight crew members a few seconds to put on oxygen masks before losing consciousness in subzero temperatures.

A former chief mechanic for Helios Airways, owner of the jet that crashed Sunday, said the plane lost cabin pressure during a December flight after a door apparently was not sealed properly.

"It was a flight from Warsaw.... The indications were that air had escaped from one of the doors -- the right door on the rear," Kyriakos Pilavakis told Greece's state-run NET television.

Pilavakis, who said he resigned from the airline in January, gave six hours of testimony to Cypriot investigators, who have seized maintenance records and other documents from Helios.

In a statement on its website, Helios Airways acknowledged that the aircraft that crashed Sunday had experienced decompression problems on a previous flight from Warsaw to Larnaca, Cyprus. Cypriot and British-based Civil Aviation Authority investigators "cleared" that incident and did not question the aircraft's maintenance, the statement said.

Helios managing director Dimitris Pantazis contended Tuesday that the plane was airworthy.

"Safety was always our first priority. This was never compromised for the sake of profit," he said.

A second round of autopsy results indicated that dozens of people, including the co-pilot and a flight attendant, were alive when Flight 522 crashed Sunday near Grammatiko, 25 miles north of Athens. It was unknown whether any were conscious when the plane went down.

All 121 people on board died. The body of the German pilot, who reportedly was not in the cockpit shortly before the crash, has not been found.

Officials said they found only the exterior container of the cockpit voice recorder and were searching for the rest.

The plane was flying from Cyprus to Athens. About 30 minutes after takeoff, the pilots reported problems with the air- conditioning system.

Two Greek fighter pilots reported seeing the co-pilot apparently unconscious and two unidentified people trying to bring the plane under control before it went down.

Relatives of the victims visited the crash site Tuesday for the first time for an outdoor memorial service beside the tail of the plane. Many laid red roses at the site.

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