Greek Govt. Feeling Pressure Over Cypriot Jet Crash
ATHENS, Greece – The Greek government came under increasing pressure Thursday to release information about the crash of a Cypriot plane, as rumors swirled surrounding the disaster that left all 121 people aboard dead.
Investigators, meanwhile, had recovered the main components of the wreckage of the Helios Airways (search) Boeing 737-000 and would begin examining them Thursday, said chief investigator Akrivos Tsolakis.
The six-member coroner's team was also examining remains of the 118 bodies recovered so far and hoped to complete the autopsies Saturday. Toxicology tests were being performed to determine whether the passengers and crew might have lost consciousness before the crash.
The Greek government's policy of not releasing information about an ongoing investigation has led to media reports of speculation and rumor, usually based on accounts by anonymous military and government officials.
Such reports have included that someone twice tried to land the plane at Athens' international airport before the crash and that all passengers and crew were unconscious due to gas or sudden cabin decompression.
"The truth might never be uncovered. But it would be better for it never to be uncovered rather than for it to be manufactured," the daily Eleftherotypia said in an editorial calling on authorities to "finally make the evidence public."
On Wednesday, state-run and private media, quoting anonymous defense ministry officials, said two Greek air force F-16 pilots — dispatched to intercept the flight after it lost radio contact — saw someone in the cockpit take control of the plane, which was flying in a gradually descending holding pattern apparently on autopilot.
That person, probably a man who experts say must have had flight training, then banked the plane away from Athens, lowering it to 2,000 feet and then climbing back up to 7,000 feet before the plane apparently ran out of fuel and crashed.
The government — which has not released any official information since a few hours after the plane crashed — has only said the fighter pilots saw the co-pilot slumped in his seat and two other people in the cockpit, apparently trying to regain control of the plane. The pilot, a German, was not in his seat.
Officials declined to comment on the latest report and have not released the full account of what the fighter pilots saw or anything about the passenger jet's final 23 minutes of flight.
"We reaffirmed our determination to find the cause of this accident," Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis (search) said after meeting with Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos (search) in Athens on Thursday. "The investigation is already proceeding rapidly." Neither he nor Papadopoulos took any questions.
In London, the British Airline Pilots' Association on Wednesday urged Greek authorities to release preliminary findings.
"There have been several apparently conflicting reports and a number of statements that just don't add up," said union head Captain Melvyn Granshaw, without elaborating. "There is a concern in our industry to learn, as quickly as possible, what happened."
The government has consistently said the cause of the crash was likely technical failure, not terrorism. But industry experts say that with so many unanswered questions, it was too soon to tell.
Crews continued their search for three missing bodies, but coroner Nikos Kalogrias said it was possible they would never be found. "This is, unfortunately, the consequence sometimes of the impact of a plane crash," he said.
So far, 26 bodies have been identified, including those of the co-pilot and three flight attendants, he said. The rest could only be identified through DNA and forensic testing due to damage by the impact and an ensuing brush fire.
Investigators were also looking into claims that the plane had suffered technical problems in the past.
Tsolakis, the chief investigator, said he had never a case like this during his 50-year-long career as an airman and safety officer. The Helios plane's flight data recorder, which was sent to Paris for decoding, could provide essential clues, he said.