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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Crash victims 'alive on impact'
Rescuers carry the body of one victim from the crash site

At least 25 passengers who died when a Cypriot Boeing 737 crashed in Greece were alive, if not conscious, on impact, coroners have determined.

Autopsies showed their vital organs were working when the plane crashed, contradicting reports on Monday that bodies were found frozen solid.

Police now say a widely reported text message describing freezing conditions onboard and a "blue" pilot was a hoax.

All 121 people on board the Helios Airways flight died in Sunday's crash.

All but 11 of the victims were Cypriot and some 17 children are thought to have been on board.

Among the victims examined by coroners were the plane's co-pilot, Pambos Haralambous, and a flight attendant thought to have tried to take control of the ailing airliner.

Athens' chief coroner, Philippos Koutsaftis, said autopsies on the remains of at least 25 passengers showed they had circulation in their heart and lungs when they were killed.

But Mr Koutsaftis did not say the findings meant that any passengers were conscious at the time of the crash.

Investigators suspect that the flight attendant made an attempt to fly the plane after both pilots lost consciousness.

The body of pilot Marten Hans Jurgen, a 50-year-old German, has not yet been found.

HELIOS AIRWAYS
1999: Established as first independent airline in Cyprus
2000: First chartered flight
2001: First scheduled flight
Flies to UK, Strasbourg, Sofia, Athens, Dublin, Warsaw and Prague
Operates four Boeing 737 planes

Relatives of the victims, who included 10 Greeks, have been arriving in Athens to identify the dead.

Many gathered at the site of the crash, near the town of Grammatikos, for a simple memorial ceremony on Tuesday. About 100 people lit candles and left flowers near the scene.

Meanwhile, memorial services have been held across Cyprus as preparations are made for the return of the first bodies.

Three days of mourning have been declared for the island's worst accident in decades.

The autopsies and memorial services came after Cypriot police raided the offices of Helios Airways looking for documents useful in a possible future criminal investigation.

Helios said the company was co-operating fully with the police.

Separately, police arrested Nektarios-Sotirios Voutas for spreading false information after claiming that his cousin sent him a text message saying that the pilots had turned blue and all the passengers were freezing.

The alleged message had made headlines in the international media.

Investigation continues

Experts believe a technical failure may have led to a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure, exposing those on board to extreme cold and lack of oxygen.

Flight 522 had been heading for Athens en route to Prague when it lost contact with air traffic controllers, sparking a security alert before it crashed.

Bereaved relatives wait at Larnaca Airport, Cyprus, to fly to Greece
At least 17 children were believed to be among the dead
Relatives have vented fury on Helios Airways, accusing the company of allowing an unsafe aircraft to take to the skies - a charge the Cypriot carrier denies.

Helios insists its plane was airworthy, but Greek television has reported that the airline's fleet has had a history of technical faults.

On one recent flight from Warsaw to Larnaca, it said, passengers were taken off the plane suffering from respiratory problems.

Company chairman Andreas Drakou said the crash was a terrible tragedy and apologised for the delay in announcing the names on the passenger list.

Both flight recorders have been recovered from the crash site but one of them is in a "very bad state", chief investigator Akrivos Tsolakis said.

They would be sent to France for examination "at all costs", he added.

GREECE AIR DISASTER
1. 0900 [0700GMT]: Helios Airways Flight ZU522 leaves Larnaca bound for Prague via Athens
2. 0920 approx: Plane reaches cruising altitude of 35,000ft
3. 0937: Plane enters Greek airspace
4. 1007: Air traffic control unable to contact aircraft
5. 1030: Greek ATC issues "Renegade alert"
6. 1055: F16 fighter aircraft scramble
7. 1120: F16s intercept aircraft; pilots observed slumped over controls
8. 1205: Aircraft crashes near Grammatikos, 40km north of Athens


Were you in the area when the plane crashed? What are your thoughts as Greece and Cyprus suffer their worst air disaster?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

As an ex-aviator I must say what happened is a terrible event. People on board must have experienced low levels of oxygen first that would cause them to go unconscious even before the freezing cold. My deepest sympathy goes out to those who lost their loved ones in yesterday's tragedy.
Gurhan Kartal, Ankara, Turkey

I am a Cypriot citizen and since the terrible crash happened, the island of Venus is in a deep sympathy for those people who died and their families. Many people are still in a big shock. We (me and my boyfriend) knew 4 people on a plane: two couples around the age of 24-28. Two of them were the crew members, airhostesses. All I wish for them is to rest in peace.
Christiana Vasiliou, Nicosia Cyprus

Both my parents are from Cyprus, and I have many good friends living there too. This has truly hit me very hard as I feel, as small island, we are all like one family. My deepest sympathies to the people who lost their lives and their families. May God rest all of their souls.
Cleo Neophytou, Cambridge, UK

As a Turkish Cypriot, I would like to offer my deep and sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who tragically lost their lives in this terrible accident as well as to the entire Greek Cypriot population. This awful event has touched us all.
Ali, Hertfordshire

My sister lived in Cyprus for 4 years. Whilst visiting her I developed a love for the Cypriot people and their beautiful island. The loss of this plane with so many children on is a true tragedy. I have recently become a father for the first time and I only now understand how truly precious children are.
Ian Hepworth, Pickering, Yorkshire, England

My family live in Cyprus and my sister knows some of the people on that flight. With me being half Cypriot this terrible news has had a big impact on me. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the people who lost their lives and their families god rest all of their souls.
Lambros Papantoniou, Grays, UK

I do not live near the crash scene, but two weeks ago - August 2nd - I survived the Air France flight 538 crash in Toronto. More and more I realise how truly lucky I am. My deepest sympathy goes out to the people who lost family and loved ones in this Greek air disaster.
Dennis Lewis, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

In 1987 a (Monarch Airlines) 737 I was on (bound for Chania in Crete) lost cabin pressure/underwent sudden and total decompression somewhere over (mountainous) north Greece, and (to cut a longer story short) after a terrifying 'rapid descent' of about 30,000ft made an emergency landing at Athens airport. We passengers didn't know what was going on at the time - I for one thought we had all had our chips. This news made me wonder whether the 737 in question was the same one I was on all those years ago (surely they don't keep them in service that long?), or whether 737s have a particular problem with the mechanics of pressurisation. It also made me realise that my fears (and others) on that 737 bound for Crete were well-founded.
Eileen Hunt, Abingdon, Oxfordshire




SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Greek air crash
14 Aug 05 |  In Pictures
Q&A: Greek air crash
14 Aug 05 |  Europe
Air disasters timeline
06 Aug 05 |  In Depth


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