Crash-Related Jail Terms Raise Concern

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A Greek court has sent ripples through the aviation industry after handing out decade-long jail terms to four individuals associated with the 2005 fatal crash of a Helios Airways Boeing 737-300 that killed all aboard. Three executives of the former airline and a British mechanic will now appeal the court's decision. The crash flight was operating out of Cyprus for Prague and crashed into a mountain near Athens. A final report (PDF) by the relevant investigative authority (the AAIASB) found that the crew was incapacitated due to hypoxia. The report states that the aircraft flew via the flight management computer and autopilot up to FL340, until fuel exhaustion led to the crash. The report's list of direct causes does not include the executives or the mechanic. It includes the position of a cockpit-accessible selector switch. A court in Cyprus had previously acquitted all five defendants charged there in connection with the crash. At least one aviation group is now publicly criticizing the Greek court's decision.

According to Aircraft Engineers International (AEI), the Greek trial's conviction of the mechanic "is based purely on the unproven supposition" that he left the cabin pressurization mode selector "in the incorrect position" after performing work on the aircraft. AEI says that the conviction "makes the ground engineer criminally responsible for the configuration of the controls of the aircraft." And that proposition "runs completely counter to the core proposition of division of responsibilities," for pilots and mechanics. The accident report lists the crew's "non-recognition" of an incorrect setting for the cabin pressurization mode selector switch -- through the preflight, before-start and after-takeoff checklists. It also identifies the crew's "non-identification" of the source of warnings for cabin altitude, oxygen mask deployment, and master caution as a direct cause of the crash. The report's list of latent causes includes deficiencies in the operator's organization, quality management and safety culture.