Monday, August 15, 2005

"We Have Ruled Out Terrorism"

Yep, the first thing they said yesterday when the Greek airliner went down, was they didn't know what went wrong, but they knew for damn sure it wasn't terrorism. From Associated Press:

ATHENS, Greece - Police in Cyprus raided the offices of Helios Airways in the coastal city of Larnaca on Monday, a day after one of the company's passenger jets slammed into a mountainside near Athens, killing all 121 people on board.

Police spokeswoman Christalla Dimitriou said officers "carried out a search" after asking the city's court for a search warrant. No arrests were made and she did not say whether police had confiscated any material from the office.

Chief Athens coroner Fillipos Koutsaftis, meanwhile, said that tests conducted on the remains showed at least six of the 121 victims were alive when the aircraft went down.

"We have performed autopsies on six people. Our conclusion is they had circulation and were breathing at the time of death," Koutsaftis said, but he added they could have been unconscious.
French experts will examine the plane's black-box recorders, officials said.

The cause of Sunday's crash, Greece's deadliest airline disaster, appeared to be technical failure resulting in high-altitude decompression and loss of oxygen. Yet many questions remained, including why the co-pilot was unconscious in the cockpit 40 minutes before the crash and why he was alone, with the captain nowhere in sight.

The captain's body has yet to be recovered, and Greek investigators — joined by a U.S. team — were trying to determine why he was not in his seat while the Boeing 737 was in peril.

Coroners also will examine blood and tissue samples from victims' lungs to determine whether anything they breathed in could have caused their deaths.

"We will seek to determine when they died and how they died," chief Koutsaftis said earlier.

Victims' relatives gathered at a central Athens morgue to identify the remains.

There had been 21 children aboard Helios Airways flight ZU522 from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Athens, "all aged 4 and above," Greek deputy Health Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos said Monday. Initially, Greek and Cypriot officials had said 48 children were on the plane. No explanation was given for the discrepancy.

According the Cypriot government, at least 10 families with children were among the dead. Passengers and crew included at least 12 Greeks, one German — the pilot — and a four-member family of Armenian origin. The rest were Cypriot.

Police in northern Greece also arrested a man who claimed to have received a telephone text message from his cousin who was on the plane before it crashed.

The man, who was identified as 32-year-old Nektarios-Sotirios Voutas, called Greek television stations shortly after the Helios Airways flight crashed, saying his cousin Nikos Petridis sent him a message that read: "Farewell, cousin, here we're frozen."

The report that the plane was cold was taken as a sign of decompression, but police in Thessaloniki said they had determined he was lying and the name Petridis was not on the Cypriot government's official list of victims.

Voutas, a resident of the northern port city of Thessaloniki who had identified himself to Greek media as Sotiris Voutas, faced charges of disseminating false information and causing a public disturbance, police said.

The Boeing 737 had been scheduled to continue to Prague, Czech Republic, after Athens. It crashed while on autopilot at 12:05 p.m. Sunday near Grammatiko, a scenic village 25 miles north of the Greek capital, apparently after running out of fuel.

Greek state television had 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."

Searchers at the crash site were still looking for three bodies, firefighting officials said Monday — including the pilot. His name was Hans-Juergen Merten, 58, of Berlin, according to German authorities and his neighbors near the German capital's Schoenefeld airport.

The body of the Cypriot co-pilot, Pambos Haralambous, reportedly was found in the cockpit.
In Cyprus, Helios Airways Chairman Andreas Drakos said the airline's crews were operating normally on Sunday, rejecting earlier reports that its pilots and crew were refusing to fly.

The head of the Greek airline safety committee, Akrivos Tsolakis, said that the two recovered black boxes — a data and cockpit voice recorder — would be sent to French air safety investigators for examination. The voice recorder was badly damaged by the crash and ensuing fire.

"It's in a bad state and, possibly, it won't give us the information we need," Tsolakis 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 said he believed his committee would be able to reach a conclusion "in a few days, a very few days."

I have heard of some bad, bad airliner crashes, but I have never heard of a black box being damaged so badly that the head of airline safety was able to determine that they would not be able to retrieve no information, before they had even tried.

Yeah, I'll bet that conclusion they'll be reaching "in a few days, a very few days" will be pretty interesting. Swamp gas? Weather balloons? Maybe the tail wing fell off and hit the pilot in the head, knocking him unconcious, and then the co-pilot passed out while tryint to give the pilot mouth-to-mouth. And then one by one all the passengers died the same way.

Move along now. There's nothing here for you to see.