Most Cyprus plane crash victims were 'frozen solid'

 


A firefighting plane flies over one of the engines of a Cypriot Helios Airways jet near the coastal town of Grammatiko.

At least six of the 121 people killed in the crash of a Cyprus airliner were alive when the plane smashed into the ground, the investigation's chief coroner said today.

"Until now I have done an autopsy on six bodies and the first evidence is that when they were killed they had circulation in their heart and lungs," Chief Coroner Philippos Koutsaftis said.

"That does not mean that they were conscious but that they had breath and circulation. They had circulation and heart beat so they were alive."

Earlier, investigators said most of the bodies recovered from the plan which crashed near Athens were frozen solid.

As accident investigators searched the crash site for clues, aviation experts were baffled at what appeared to have been a catastrophic failure of cabin pressure or oxygen supply in freezing temperatures at 35,000 feet - nearly 10 kilometres in the air.

One expert said reports of extreme cold suggested there was no air circulating in the cabin.

Relatives of the victims of the Helios Airlines Boeing 737 plane crash in Greece cry before their departure from Larnaca Airport in Cyprus to Athens, August 15th, 2005.
Relatives of the victims of the Helios Airlines Boeing 737 plane crash in Greece cry before their departure from Larnaca Airport in Cyprus to Athens, August 15th, 2005.

"Autopsy on passengers so far shows the bodies were frozen solid, including some whose skin was charred by flames from the crash," the Defence Ministry source said today.

Early indications suggest the 115 passengers and six crew were dead or unconscious when the Helios Airways Boeing 737 crashed 40 kilometres north of Athens yesterday. There were no survivors.

Rescue workers recovered the pilot's body, a German identified as Martin Hans Gurgen, and said they had found the plane's black box flight recorders, including the one that records pilot conversations. These are being sent to France for analysis.

The recovery of the black boxes is crucial to determining the cause of the worst air disaster in Greece and the worst involving a Cypriot airline.

Greek TV reported yesterday that the pilot had told air traffic controllers the plane was experiencing problems with its air conditioning system shortly before contact was lost.

A passenger list released by Cyprus's Transport Ministry showed a family of four Armenians living in Cyprus, 12 Greeks and 104 Cypriots were killed in the crash. There were 17 children under the age of 16 on board, the youngest aged four.

Relatives of some victims were on their way from Cyprus to the crash site to start trying to identify loved ones.

At Larnaca airport in Cyprus, from where the plane took off, crew and passengers on today refused to board an aircraft belonging to Helios Airways, the state-run Cyprus News Agency reported.

Autopsy on passengers so far shows the bodies were frozen solid
Greek Defence Ministry

About 100 passengers due to fly from Larnaca to Sofia demanded to travel on planes of other airlines.

Helios Airways later announced it had grounded its fleet, a Cyprus Transport Ministry spokesman said.

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus started three days of mourning with flags at half mast in a long weekend holiday that is the busiest of the summer for Greeks and Cypriots.

The flight was declared "renegade" when it entered Greek air space and failed to make radio contact. Two F-16 air force jets were scrambled to investigate and reported that the co-pilot was slumped in the cockpit and the pilot was not visible.

Defence Ministry officials said 90 minutes elapsed between the alert being raised and the plane crashing at 12:03pm.

Greek government spokesman Theodore Roussopoulos said the F-16 pilots reported that with the pilots out of action there may have been a last-gasp effort by others on the plane to bring it back under control.

Agencies