Relatives and friends of loved ones who died in the Helios Airways crash were on Monday marking 12 years since the deadliest aviation incident in Cypriot and Greek history.
Helios Airways Flight 522 crashed in the hillside of Grammatikos in Greece on August 14, 2005 after circling in a holding pattern unpiloted for almost three hours before the Boeing 737 ran out of fuel and plummeted into the ground.
All 121 passengers and crew members died in the crash. The plane had been on route to Athens from Larnaca.
Memorial services were being held at the crash site in Grammatikos – just north of Athens – as well as at some churches across Cyprus.
It remains the worst aviation disaster in the history of both Cyprus and Greece. Most of the victims were Cypriot families going on holiday to either Greece or Prague – which was the second destination of the plane’s flight plan that day.
The cause of the crash had been blamed on the plane’s decompression valve being wrongly set to manual instead of automatic. This in turn led to the pilots failing to spot the error and to diagnose the problem in time.
Starved of oxygen as the plane continued to climb, they – along with the passengers and most of the crew members – succumbed to hypoxia and collapsed.
A last-stitch effort by steward Andreas Prodromou to save the plane failed as the aircraft – starved of fuel – crashed into the ground.
The Hellenic Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board (AAIASB) listed the direct causal chain of events that led to the accident as:
– Non-recognition by the pilots that the pressurisation system was set to “manual”
– Non-identification by the crew of the true nature of the problem
– Incapacitation of the crew due to hypoxia
– Eventual fuel starvation
– Impact with the ground
Several airline officials of the now defunct Cypriot airline company had been prosecuted and convicted by an Athens Court in the aftermath of the crash while relatives of the dead filed a class action suit against the Cypriot government – specifically the Department of Civil Aviation – for negligence that led to the air disaster.