Nicosia.- It’ s been more than two weeks since the disaster of Helios Airways flight ZU 522 but police are yet to request from CyTA the recorded conversation between the pilot and the Helios headquarters moments before communication with the aircraft was cut off.
Greek-language Alithia newspaper pondered that question in Friday’s publication, saying that they found it puzzling that the recorded tapes are currently sitting on a desk at CyTA (Telephone Company) and that the police have yet to pick them up despite the transcripts of the recording being played time and time again on television and radio stations in Greece and Cyprus.
A CyTA source had told the paper that they were ready to hand the tapes over to any relevant authority that requested them but, until now, nobody has asked for them.
Meanwhile, sources told Athens daily Kathimerini that investigators have also retrieved the diary of co-pilot Pambos Charalambous, who recorded his concerns about technical problems with the plane and friction with the Helios management, according to his family. “My father kept a diary about the problems of the airline and if that gets out the company will close,” his son Yiannis said days after the crash.
His family said they had searched their house for the diary but could not find it and surmised that Charalambous must have taken it with him. Sources said the diary was found on Thursday among the personal items that had been collected from the crash site. Police then secretly flew in his widow from Cyprus to confirm the diary belonged to her husband, sources said.
The diary has now been handed to the head of the investigation team, Akrivos Tsolakis, and it could provide experts with vital clues as they seek to establish what may have caused the plane to lose pressure before it ran out of fuel and crashed.
Mr Tsolakis in a statement made to Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation denied the information.
TRANSPORT MINISTER ATTACKED
Meanwhile, Cypriot Transport Minister Haris Thrasou refuted claims by the man in charge of issuing licenses for the Cypriot Civil Aviation Authority, who said none of the island’s aircraft had undergone safety checks in the last 10 months, even though the airlines had paid for them.
Thrasou said Charalambos Hadjigeorgiou had given misleading information, since 14 checks had been administered on Cypriot aircraft between January and August this year. But he admitted that flight checks, which are not mandatory, were only done once a year. The minister said Hadjigeorgiou was upset because he wanted locals to replace British experts who advised Cyprus on civil aviation matters. The aviation official accused the minister of lying.
Speaking on CyBC radio on Thursday, Hadjigeorgiou said no in-flight checks had been carried out on any aircraft belonging to the island’s three airlines, Cyprus Airways, Eurocypria, and Helios.
The inspections examined whether the crew followed the standard operating procedures as they are laid down in the manuals.
And although an ICAO source told the Cyprus Mail on Thursday that the specific inspections were considered the last step in a series of checks, Thrasou yesterday could not confirm if the specific checks had been carried out.
In the wake of the bombshell comments made by head of the licensing department at the Civil Aviation, police have decided he would now have to make a second statement.
Attorney-general Petros Clerides said Hadjigeorgiou would have to resubmit his statement to the police in light of his public comments about the Civil Aviation’s failure to properly carry out in-flight checks on the island, something which was categorically denied by Communications Minister Haris Thrasou.
Speaking to state radio, Clerides said, “Mr Hadjigeorgiou will have to make his statement again to the police because it appears that he may know more than what he had initially stated.”
DIKO deputy Nicos Pittokopitis said he was baffled as to why Hadjigeorgiou did not speak up before.
“My question is why he didn’t speak up until after the tragic event of August 14. If he had known about any problems like these, I am sure others would have been here to listen to his worries.
Even I have met with him lots of times in the past and he never said anything to me.”
Justice Minister Doros Theodorou stated that the “door of the police is still open” when asked by reporters about the second statement that Hadjigeorgiou would have to make.
Cypriot Daily PHILELEFTHEROS, in an article entitled “To the mercy of chance”, says there will be repercussions from the government’s attempts to cover up weaknesses in the Civil Aviation Department, the paper said. New documents brought to light confirm that such weaknesses exist. So also does the testimony by the official in charge of licensing Charalambos Hadjigeorgiou, which strengthens the evidence. The paper said that another two officials at the department had reported and warned that there were deficiencies in the system but nothing had been done except to cover up the problems by way of a solution.
PAIN AND GRIEF
Flowers were laid by locals on Saturday at the site in Grammatiko, some 40 kilometers north of Athens, where the Helios Airways plane crashed on Sunday, August 14, killing all 121 people on board. Accompanied by members of the Holy Synod, Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Church of Greece, led a memorial service for the victims at the crash site.
18 more Cypriots killed in the Helios crash on August 14 were buried Friday, including flight steward Andreas Prodormou, whom it is believed made a last desperate attempt to save the doomed airliner.
The remains of 50 of the 121 passengers and crew were flown into Cyprus just before midnight on Thursday on two Greek C-130s after being identified through DNA testing. The planes were met by Health Minister Andreas Gavrielides and a convoy of ambulances, along with a team of psychologists to counsel the relatives.
A religious service was also held at the airport.
Prodromou, who held a private pilot’s licence, was on the flight with his girlfriend Haris Charalambous, also a Helios flight attendant. The funeral took place at the Ayios Georgios church in Latsia late yesterday afternoon.
According to the preliminary report in to the crash an exhausted-sounding man, tried to send a last-minute distress call, which never got out. Investigators believe the man was Prodormou.
Greek newspaper Haravghi said on Friday the fatal flight was the first time Prodromou had actually flown on the Boeing 737-300. He was officially part of a crew from one of the other Helios aircrafts, his uncle told the newspaper. He said his nephew used to dream that he would one day be a commercial pilot.
Also buried Friday were Demos and Margarita Xiourouppa aged 39 and 34 respectively and their two daughters Sophia, 10, and Joanna, nine. They leave behind a two-year old boy George who is now an orphan.
The family, who lived in Australia, were visiting relatives in Paralmini, and left their youngest at home with his grandparents because he had a fever. Reports said that Demos didn’t actually want to go on the trip but his daughters begged him.
Forensic experts identified the body of the German pilot of the Helios flight. The remains of 50-year-old Hans Juergen Merten were identified with the help of DNA testing and dental records as investigators continued to search for traces of three bodies they have yet to recover out of the 121 people killed when the Boeing 737-300 crashed in Grammatiko.