M A I N   N E W S

121 dead in plane crash

Athens, August 14
All 121 persons aboard a Cypriot airliner died today north of Athens after the pilot and a passenger reported cabin pressure problems moments before the plane was due to land.

“The pilot has turned blue,” a passenger said in a mobile text message to his cousin, Greek television reported. “Cousin farewell, we’re freezing,” it said.

Greek TV station Alpha reported that the pilot had told air traffic controllers the plane was experiencing air conditioning problems. Moments later, communications with the plane were cut.

The Greek police and firefighters at the crash site said there were no immediate signs of survivors. Plane wreckage was scattered widely about the mountainous, uninhabited area, about 40 km north of Athens.

“We have yet to locate any survivors. There is a small fire still burning, but it will be dealt with very quickly,” a firefighter at the scene told Reuters.

Two Greek F-16 fighter jets were scrambled after the Helios Airways jet, en route from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague via Athens, lost contact with the control tower at Athens international airport.

One of the F-16 pilots reported that he could not see the captain in the cockpit and his co-pilot appeared to be slumped in his seat, a Defence Ministry official told Reuters.

The Greek police said there were no signs the plane had been hijacked.

Cypriot airport officials said flight HCY522 left Larnaca at 9 a.m. and lost contact at 10:30 a.m. The pilot appeared to have lost consciousness due to a loss in cabin pressure in the cockpit, Larnaca airport officials said on Cyprus state television CYBC.

“I saw the plane coming. I knew it was serious or that it was some kind of VIP because I saw the two fighter jets,” said witness Dimitris Karezas, who owns a summer camp in the area.

“Two, three minutes later I heard a big bang,” he said.

A Greek police spokesman said there had been 115 passengers and six crew members on board, of which 59 and eight children were heading to Athens, with 48 continuing on to Prague.

Greek Defence Ministry officials said they suspected malfunctions in the oxygen supply or pressurisation system could have caused the crash of the Cypriot plane.

“It could be that there was some problem either with the oxygen supply or with decompression,” a Defence Ministry official told Reuters.

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