Thursday, 24 January 2013

A flaw in the design of Boeing 737-300 had caused the crash of Helios Airlines

  GRReporterMaria S. Topalova

A flaw in the design of Boeing 737-300 had caused the crash of Helios Airlines as stated by Stelios Voudouris, the defender of Yanko Stoimenov, in the Court of Appeals in Athens. At today's meeting, the three-member panel of the court heard the defenders of the four employees of Helios Airline accused of the crash on 14 August 2005, which killed 121 people. Voudouris requested the removal of the indictment and the complete acquittal of Helios’ staff.

    None of the defendants appeared at today's meeting and their defenders represented them. Stelios Voudouris, who represents three of the defendants – executive manager Dimitris Pandatzis, director of flight operations George Kikidis and the first pilot Yanko Stoimenov, started his pleading first. All three are accused of allowing the two pilots to take control of the fatal flight although they were not well trained and showed intolerable negligence to each other as alleged in the indictment of the prosecutor.
The pleading of the defender lasted one hour and 45 minutes. On the basis of the thesis- antithesis principle of opposition, he considered all the arguments of the prosecution emphasizing the difference between the facts and the hypotheses. "I cannot prove that I am not an elephant. I can only present you the facts and you will make your decision," the defender turned to the court with these words.
1. The training of pilots – the commander, the German pilot Mertel, was subject to exams three times by three different companies in the last two years before the fatal crash. Helios was one of those companies. He passed the exams all the three times. The last one was two months before the crash. Assistant captain Haralambos was also regularly subject to verification tests, the last one being held in less than six months before the crash.
2. Professional skills – both of them were experienced pilots and had a total of 23,500 flight hours. They were among the most expensive pilots of Helios Airlines precisely because they were professionals. One of the charges against the employees of Helios is that Haralambos was not very capable since he was already 50 years old and an assistant captain still. "Haralambos began working as a mechanic. He became a second pilot at the age of 40. He started to fly relatively late. This is the reason for him being only an assistant captain at the age of 50. It makes no sense for him being unable to be so well paid. Why the company will keep him if it could hire a more capable person against a twice as low salary," stressed the defence.
3. The personal intolerance between the two pilots – according to Stelios Voudouris, this accusation is based only on statements made by Haralambos’ widow. He recalled her words which she had told just a day after the tragic accident, when she argued something else: "I do not know Mertel. I've heard nothing about him. My husband has never mentioned him." Just on the contrary, the two pilots often flew together. They had nine joint flights only in 2005, the tenth being the fatal flight.
4. Another argument of the prosecutor is that since Helios was a low-cost company, it had lower requirements for flight safety. "A low-cost company means that there is no business and first class, there is only tourist class and to save costs on the airplane time off, the company chooses" difficult" hours  of departure - early in the morning or late in the evening," explained the defender before the judges. He recalled that the worst airplane crash that killed 580 people was KLM’s. Air France, all U.S. airlines and even the Greek Olympic, whose aircraft killed more than 200 people, including a Greek deputy foreign minister, have had serious accidents in their history. So, unfortunately, aviation accidents are not a patent only of low-cost companies.
5. Because the pilots had made a mistake, it means that they are unskilful. Here, Stelios Voudouris gave many examples showing unfortunately that even the most experienced and skilful pilots are at the risk of making mistakes that can cause many deaths. The latest example is the helicopter, which crashed in a crane in the centre of London and killed the two people on board. A pilot of the Royal Air Force, which had been doing this in the past 15 years, operated it; he had been a stunt and appeared in the films of James Bond as well. The Polish pilot of the plane that crashed in Russia with the President, Vice President and half of the Polish government on board was also a military pilot with great experience. Such was the pilot of the previously mentioned KLM’s flight.
The defender urged the judges to draw a line between the facts and the hypotheses. "What are the facts? The airplane cabin was depressurised. The Boeing 737-300 did not have effective light signals. Oxygen masks were not used. Consequently, the pilots lost consciousness which led to the tragedy." The rest is speculation. One of the allegations, including at Yanko Stoimenov, is that the two pilots were not trained how to act in case of loss of consciousness. "There is no such training in civil aviation; it is made only in military aviation. It does not make sense for civil aviation, - what is the sense of training someone who is not in consciousness due to the lack of oxygen? It makes sense in military aviation, because there the pilot may temporarily lose consciousness for other reasons and it is important for him to quickly recover," said Voudouris.
The main arguments of the prosecution rely on the report of the Greek board to investigate the crash, which, however, many institutions and experts have criticized and challenged. "There is no report of another government institution that has been subject to such criticism," recalls Stelios Voudouris. The black box of the plane has not been found, no analysis of the computer has been made, no microscopic analysis of important evidence has been made and others have been lost. Boeing’s experts themselves state before the court in Cyprus that the status of material evidence received is such that it does not allow them to draw reliable conclusions.
According to the defence, the fatal Boeing 737-300 model built in the 1950s had serious problems with the pressurisation and cooling signalisation. There is evidence of more than 300 flights by that aircraft, which were on the brink of tragedy.
The judges were visibly annoyed while listening to the defender’s pleading. Only the chairwoman of the jury gave the impression of making notes at times. One of her colleagues was hardly containing herself from falling asleep. Neither they, nor the prosecutor asked any questions. Instead, they announced that they were called to fill the composition of a multi-member panel that was meeting in connection with civil matters at the same time. The meeting was interrupted for over two hours. When it was resumed, the other representative of the "Ioannis Iriotis" law firm, who defends Helios’ chief engineer Alan Irwin, was heard. 

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