Crew Behavior Explored in Cypriot Jet Crash
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's an update on the investigation of the crash of a jetliner in Greece. Authorities say they're confused by the behavior of the flight crew aboard the Boeing 737. Early reports indicated this plane lost cabin pressure and flew on autopilot before crashing into a hillside north of Athens. One hundred twenty-one people were killed. John Psaropoulos(ph), editor of The Athens News, joins us now to get the latest on this crash.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. JOHN PSAROPOULOS (Editor, The Athens News): Hello. Good morning.
INSKEEP: We're still a couple days in. It's a mysterious crash. But what is known about what happened to this jetliner as of today?
Mr. PSAROPOULOS: Well, at the moment, the latest news is from the autopsies of, so far, 20 of the bodies that were recovered, which revealed that they were alive when the plane crashed. That doesn't necessarily mean they were conscious. But the coroners in Athens that there was blood circulation. There hearts were pumping. There was breathing, and they were clearly alive, biologically at least. So that would probably rule out any theory of poison gas leakage or freezing to death at 35,000 feet, as some people have been theorizing.
INSKEEP: Now investigators have been focusing on the behavior of the flight crew. We heard these reports of fighter pilots who were sent up to intercept the plane and saw strange things going on in the cockpit, or not going on. What's known there?
Mr. PSAROPOULOS: Well, the Defense Department, the Greek Air Force, has been saying publicly now--and the press minister--that the two F-16 pilots did see the co-pilot slumped over the controls, the pilot missing from the cockpit and a third person, possibly even a fourth, conscious and trying to--struggling to regain control of the aircraft. That third person may have been a flight attendant. There are reports that a flight attendant's body was found in or near the cockpit, but that's not been confirmed. The situation was one in which the pilots had lost consciousness, in all probability. And from what the F-16 pilots were able to see, at least one person was trying to get control of the aircraft back.
INSKEEP: All right. Let's check on a couple of things that have been mentioned over the last couple of days. There were reports over the weekend about a text message sent from the plane. That's now been found to be a hoax, correct?
Mr. PSAROPOULOS: That's right. That's false.
INSKEEP: OK. And also, we've been hearing about an investigation of the owner of this airplane, Helios Airways. What's the latest there?
Mr. PSAROPOULOS: Well, there's been a raid, as you know, on Monday night on the offices of the company in Cyprus. They've--the public prosecutor in Cyprus will be receiving documents to see if there is a case against the company. What we do know about the history of this plane is that it suffered a massive sudden decompression on the 16th of December, 2004, last year, when it was traveling from Warsaw, Poland, to Cyprus. And the pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft and everyone landed safely. But that doesn't necessarily mean the aircraft was faulty. That piece of information on its own doesn't condemn the company. What the prosecutor will be looking into is the maintenance records. And I think they will be interviewing the engineers on the ground to see whether the company was persistently ignoring warnings from its own staff.
INSKEEP: OK. And we should mention that you're putting these in the form of a question, things that investigators are asking now, not necessarily things that they've concluded. Mr. Psaropoulos, thanks very much.
Mr. PSAROPOULOS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: John Psaropoulos is the editor of The Athens News. He's in Athens.
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