8/16/2005

Chicago Tribune | Mysterious plane crash kills 121

High in the skies above the Aegean Sea, two Greek fighter pilots nudged their F-16s to either side of a Cypriot passenger jet and quickly discerned the disaster that was unfolding.

They saw a cockpit in turmoil. One of the Cypriot pilots sat slumped over the instrument panel. The other was not visible. Two other people desperately tried to gain control of the plane. Oxygen masks dangled in the cabin.

Less than an hour later, Helios Airways Flight 522 bound for Athens slammed into the side of a wooded Greek hill Sunday, killing all 121 people aboard. About one-third of the dead were children.

The worst airline crash in Greek history is also one of the most mysterious. Incapacitation of both pilots on a commercial jetliner is extremely rare. It suggests multiple malfunctions that happened either too quickly or too subtly for the pilots to be aware of them or to act in time to remedy them, aviation experts said.

The presence of the two people in the cockpit also was mysterious, because by all appearances everyone else aboard the plane was incapacitated.

Greek and Cypriot officials said Sunday that, while nothing could be ruled out, it appeared unlikely that terrorism was involved. In addition, there were no signs of a hijacking, such as a distress call, the officials said.

Chicago Tribune | Mysterious plane crash kills 121

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