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Helios 'Mayday' call chills courtroom.


Alexia Saoulli

RELATIVES of the Helios air crash victims broke down in court yesterday as they heard a cockpit recording of the flight's final 30 minutes.

Mothers and wives dressed in black tried to stifle sobs as the recording played on in the packed courtroom during the testimony of French civil aviation expert Philippe Plantin de Hugues.

As the minutes dragged on the only sound that could be heard was an incessant 'beep, beep, beep' like a disconnected dial tone. At intermittent intervals voices could be heard speaking. What they were saying was unclear. Then during the final minutes of the recording a distinct male voice cried out: "Mayday, mayday, mayday". Hearing those words seemed to send chills through the courtroom and the relatives' unbearable pain was almost tangible. One man covered his hand with his mouth as if to stifle a sob and another woman shuddered while her tearful friend reached out to console her.

In August 2005 121 passengers and crew died aboard on the fated Helios flight, which crashed into a hill at Grammitiko north of Athens. The 'Mayday' call was believed to have been made by Chief Steward Andreas Prodromou minutes before the crash.

Plantin de Hugues, who is employed at BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety), an agency of the French government, responsible for investigating aviation accidents and making safety recommendations based on what is learned from those investigations, told the court the black box had been in extremely bad condition when it arrived at their headquarters on the grounds of Paris -- Le Bourget Airport.

He said it had taken much time to retrieve the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recording (CVR) and that playing copies of both would take up to an hour.

The procedure to dismantle the black box was filmed by the BEA and shown in court. Photographs of the box's memory card were also taken during the entire process.

The Assize Court judges told the prosecution they had not been able to understand everything that had been said on the cockpit recording. The prosecution said this was because the tape had to be listened to several times before being able to make out what was being said and that a transcription of the recording had been made and would be presented to the court by another witness at a later date.

The trial continues today.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2009

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Jan 12, 2010
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