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Carbon monoxide poisoning ruled out in Cyprus crash

August 19, 2005

By Brian Williams

ATHENS (Reuters) – Tests on victims of a Cyprus airliner
crash showed no carbon monoxide poisoning on Friday, which
appeared to rule out one theory for the disaster.

Investigators hope tests will shed some light on why the
pilot, co-pilot and many passengers on the Helios Airways
Boeing 737 apparently fell unconscious before the plane crashed
near Athens last Sunday killing all six crew and 115
passengers.

One theory for Greece and Cyprus’s worst air disaster was
faulty air conditioning or a fire releasing poisonous carbon
monoxide fumes.

“We are still doing tests for other gases, poisons, drugs
and alcohol,” Greece’s Chief Coroner Philippos Koutsaftis said
after meeting Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras.

Of six victims examined, five, including the co-pilot,
showed no signs of breathing in carbon monoxide, while a
stewardess had a minimum level of 7 percent, which was not
considered dangerous, Koutsaftis told reporters.

“The seven percent is deemed to be minimal,” he said.

Former Cypriot government forensic pathologist Marios
Matsakis told Reuters there had been insufficient tests so far
to draw any firm conclusions.

“All we can say at this point is that they did not breathe
in carbon monoxide,” Matsakis, a member of the European
Parliament, said.

At the crash site, searchers found the cockpit voice
recorder after six days of scouring the area, raising hopes the
last conversations would shed light on the disaster.

The plane’s other so-called “black box,” which records
flight data, had already been found.

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos has described the
crash as a “peculiar” accident with only one precedent,
suggesting a link to U.S. golfer Payne Stewart’s plane death in
1999.

Stewart was not the pilot of a Learjet that crashed in the
United States, killing all five people on board.

In both cases, the planes flew for a lengthy period on auto
pilot — Stewart’s for four hours halfway across the United
States — with the pilots in both cases seemingly unconscious
or dead at the controls and out of radio contact.

The U.S. investigation of Stewart’s October 1999 accident
in which all five people aboard died, warned of dangers of
pilots becoming so engrossed in a minor task they did not
swiftly put on oxygen masks when trouble broke out.

Investigators believe the key to discovering what caused
the Cypriot plane to crash may be found in the final 23 minutes
of the flight scheduled to last only 90 minutes from Larnaca in
Cyprus to Prague with a stop in Athens.

F-16 pilots whose planes were scrambled to fly alongside
the doomed aircraft said they could not see the pilot, the
co-pilot was visible slumped in his seat unconscious, and two
unknown people were in the cockpit apparently trying to fly the
plane.




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