Confidential 2006 Investigation on Helios Crash Released
An in-depth investigation into the Helios Airlines crash has been released five years after it was conducted, and places responsibility for the deadliest air accident in Cyprus' history on the airline's pilots and top officials.
The investigation, headed by former Supreme Court judge Panayiotis Kallis, is based on 58 witnesses in 44 hearings as well as 3000 documents and was carried out in 2006, a year after the accident. Attorney-general Petros Clerides refused to release it at the time, saying it might interfere with a police investigation.
Captain could not handle stress - testimony
The probe cites a psychiatrist's report finding that Captain Hans-Jürgen Merten was psychologically weak and unable to function properly under pressure. In addition, the Swiss Office for Civil Aviation reported that although his flying ability was good, his standard operation procedures had to improve along with his systems knowledge.
Merten was considered to be difficult to communicate with and was not a team player, often unsure but doing the opposite of suggested ways forward out of egotism, according to witnesses. This meant that his Cockpit Resource Managment (CRM) was not satisfactory. CRM covers effective crew management and coordination.
Co-pilot Bambos Charalambous had been given a three-month warning as his own performance was unsatisfactory, according to Kallis' evidence. Both men had difficulty communicating with each other because of the language barrier.
Airline received warning from Civil Aviation
Adding to the overall picture of sloppy management and neglect, Helios Airlines itself received a warning letter from the Cyprus Civil Aviation Authority expressing concern over the lack of quality controls and inspections for the year 2004, says Kallis' findings. The Helios Airlines plane crashed a year later, killing all 121 people aboard.
The investigation concludes that Helios was liable for hiring incompetent staff and failing to carry out quality checks to keep the aircraft in good condition. The non-binding findings were released shortly after Nicosia District Court acquitted Helios Airlines officials and ownership of negligent manslaughter on December 21st.
Helios Board Chairman Andreas Drakos, Chief Executive Officer Demetris Pantazis, Operations Manager Georgios Kikidis and Chief Pilot Janko Stoimenov were acquitted by a 2-1 majority judgement. According to two of the judges, no link was proved between negligence in the company's operations and the tragic accident, which has been blamed on pilot error. Judge Nikolas Santis disagreed with the judgement.
Shortly after the decision, Attorney-general Petros Clerides said he would appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court. If the appeal is successful, the trial will start again and evidence from Kallis' investigation could be used in the new proceedings.
The plane crashed in Grammatikos near Athens in 2005, killing all passengers and crew on board. Investigators said that the accident was due to the pilots' failure to pressurise the cabin, and that the lack of oxygen plunged everyone on board into unconsciousness about 90 minutes into the flight en route to Prague.
The decision to acquit Helios Airlines and its top officials caused an angry outcry from the victims' families, who protested outside the attorney-general's offices in Nicosia. Angry, shouting and pounding Cleride's car as he left the office, black-clad relatives demanded accountability and refused to accept that no one was responsible for the deaths of their families.
Just after the acquittal, a spokesman for the victims' families appeared on Sigma TV accusing authorities of suppressing evidence by not releasing Kallis' findings. He also criticised the timing of the decision which was delayed several times, finally coming after parliamentary elections and just before another Christmas the bereaved will have to spend without their loved ones.
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