Helios 737 Speculation, Evidence
Student Pilot Was At Controls, Says Magazine
A Helios Airways Boeing 737-300 full of unconscious or semiconscious crew and passengers ran out of fuel with a student pilot / flight attendant at the controls before crashing in Greece last week, according to a report in Flight International. The flight's cockpit voice recorder has been recovered (in pieces), but its contents have not been publicly disclosed. The magazine said it obtained an exclusive interview with Capt. Akrivos Tsolakis, the head of the Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board, who confirmed earlier reports that a male flight attendant, identified by a Macedonian news agency as Andreas Prodromou, who had a few hours of private pilot instruction, managed to take the plane off autopilot and begin a descent. If true, that might help explain the plane's final maneuvers, which included "a descent from 37,000 feet to 2,000 feet and then an ascent to 7,000 feet," according to a report from The Associated Press. Meanwhile, the coroner has reported carbon monoxide was not responsible for rendering the aircraft's occupants unconscious -- decompression still ranks high in suspected causes. Late reports state that the plane ran out of fuel as it passed through 7,000 feet (and after about three hours in the air, on a scheduled 80-minute flight). It crashed about 25 miles northeast of Athens. According to Flight International, Tsolakis said Prodromou and another flight attendant were able to stay conscious by using portable oxygen tanks after the rest of the crew and passengers passed out when the air conditioning and pressurization system malfunctioned. The magazine said Tsolakis noted that the plane's air conditioning had been fixed five times in the previous two months. On the crash flight, the captain reported air conditioning problems a few minutes into the flight but the plane continued to climb, likely on autopilot, to 34,000 feet. The last radio communication with the plane was 11 minutes into the flight.