Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Plane crashes in Greece, 121 likely dead

AGENCIES , ATHENS

Rescuers walk by the tail of a Cypriot Helios Airways jet near the coastal town of Grammatikos, about 40km north of Athens.

PHOTO: AP

A Helios Airways jet with 121 people on board crashed yesterday in a mountainous region north of Athens, defense and fire officials said. Greek fire chief Christos Smetis said there were no survivors.

It was not immediately clear why the plane crashed, but reports said the pilots may have been unconscious when the plane went down.

Firefighters searching for survivors amid the burning wreckage of a Cyprus Helios Airways jet that crashed near Athens Sunday have found "the first dead but still no survivors," a fire department spokesman told reporters.

Officials said the plane crashed at about 12:20pm near the coastal town of Grammatikos north of Athens after losing contact with air traffic control.

Eyewitnesses told an Athens radio station the plane was being followed by air force fighter jets when it went down in a gorge about 40km north of Athens.

"There is wreckage everywhere," Grammatikos Mayor George Papageorgiou said from the scene, saying that only the tail section was recognizable. "The fuselage has been destroyed. It fell into a chasm and there are pieces. All the residents are here trying to help."

The flight, with 115 passengers and six crew members on board, was headed from the Cypriot city of Larnaca to Athens International Airport. According to one report, 80 of the passengers were Greek children returning from a trip to Cyprus. After losing touch with the Athens control tower, the Greek air force scrambled two F-16 fighter jets, reports said.

"The plane crashed around 400m from homes in the area," said Miltiadis Merkouris, a Grammatikos city official.

The air force pilots reported no movement in the cockpit of the plane, and it was unclear if the two pilots were unconscious or not in the seats, reports said. The plane did not respond to radio calls, according to reports.

A passenger on the airliner said in a mobile text message to his cousin before the crash that the pilots were slumped and that it was freezing in the plane.

"The pilot has turned blue [in the face]," the passenger said in the SMS message to his cousin, Greek television reported. "Cousin farewell we're freezing," it said.

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