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Cypriot Boeing 737 Crashes, Killing All 121 on Board

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Airline officials in Greece say they have recovered the flight data recorders from a jetliner that crashed yesterday. This crashed killed all 121 people on board, and that makes it the worst airline disaster in Greek history. This Boeing 737 was headed for Athens International Airport when it smashed into a mountain. We're going to learn more now from Penny Gourntis(ph) of the Athens News Agency. And, Penny, it's nearly always hard to tell in the first couple of days what really caused a plane to crash, but can you talk us through the evidence that's known so far.

Ms. PENNY GOURNTIS (Athens News Agency): Well, Greek authorities and Cypriot authorities as well have ruled out really any possibility of a terrorism act. Basically, the Flight 522 of Helios Airways departed Cyprus Larnaca Airport at 9:07 AM yesterday morning with an estimated arrival time in Athens of around 10:52 and would then continue on to Prague. About 20 minutes into the flight, allegedly, the pilot reported problems with the AC, but...

INSKEEP: A problem with the air inside the plane.

Ms. GOURNTIS: Exactly. And they thought it was a minor problem and that it would be able to be corrected while the plane was airborne. At 10:07 AM, air controllers at Athens International Airport tried to make radio contact, but were unable to after repeated attempts. A few minutes later at 10:20, Athens air control communicated with Larnaca to inquire about the plane, and that's when they first learned that there had been a mention of an air conditioning problem.

INSKEEP: So as the concern grew, F-16 fighters were sent to intercept this plane to get a look at it. What did they see?

Ms. GOURNTIS: Yes. They saw the co-pilot was slumped in the cockpit, and he seemed to be unconscious. The pilot was not in the cockpit, and then they saw an oxygen mask dangling in the cockpit, and they also saw that all the oxygen masks in the cabin had also dropped as well. Later on, they saw two people in the cockpit trying to regain control of the plane, but they're not sure if they were members of the crew or if they were passengers. I think that they've gotten photos and video coverage of the plane's final minutes in flight, as well as the crash, which have been turned over to Greek military authorities, but it hasn't been made public yet.

INSKEEP: And they also have a text message from one of the passengers?

Ms. GOURNTIS: Yes, but that has not been verified, and there have been questions brought up as to whether somebody can send an SMS message from 30,000 or 34,000 feet altitude.

INSKEEP: How are people responding to this news on the ground?

Ms. GOURNTIS: Well, people are really devastated and shocked. There's also been an outcry against the airline, because people felt that the airline didn't respond in a timely manner. They hadn't made known the passenger list to the relatives as of 5:30 PM yesterday, and that was after Cypriot Transport Minister Haris Thrassou imposed a deadline for them to do so. So there was really pretty heart-wrenching scenes at Larnaca Airport with relatives waiting there and waiting to find out about their loved ones and, you know, becoming a little bit aggressive with airline personnel.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. We've been talking to Penny Gourntis of the Athens News Agency about the crash of a jetliner in Greece.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.