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Helios Airlines Officials Convicted of Manslaughter In Athens, My Husband Was Scapegoat, Says Stoimenova

helios court caseUpdate: Helios Airlines official Dimitris Pantazis (CEO) George Kikkides (head of flight operations), Janko Stoimenov (head pilot) and Alan Irwin (engineer on duty) have been found guilty of manslaughter by an Athens court in the Helios air disaster of 2005 in which 121 people were killed in an appalling plane crash.

None of the defendants were present in court and their current whereabouts are not clear.

The defendants were sentenced to 10 years each pending an appeal. In Cyprus, a similar case brought against Helios Airlines resulted in the acquittal of all parties. The case is currently on appeal.

In December 2011, the decision to acquit Helios Airlines and its top officials caused an furious outcry from the victims' families, who protested outside the attorney-general Petros Clerides' offices in Nicosia. Angry, shouting and pounding Cleride's car as he left the office, black-clad relatives demanded accountability and refused to accept that no one was responsible for the deaths of their families.

An in-depth investigation into the Helios Airlines crash was subsequently released five years after it was conducted, placing responsibility for the deadliest air accident in Cyprus' history on the airline's pilots and top officials. The investigation, headed by former Supreme Court judge Panayiotis Kallis, is based on 58 witnesses in 44 hearings as well as 3000 documents and was carried out in 2006, a year after the accident.

Attorney-general Petros Clerides refused to release it at the time, saying it might interfere with a police investigation.

Captain could not handle stress - testimony

The probe cites a psychiatrist's report finding that Captain Hans-Jürgen Merten was psychologically weak and unable to function properly under pressure. In addition, the Swiss Office for Civil Aviation reported that although his flying ability was good, his standard operation procedures had to improve along with his systems knowledge. Merten was considered to be difficult to communicate with and was not a team player, often unsure but doing the opposite of suggested ways forward out of egotism, according to witnesses.

This meant that his Cockpit Resource Managment (CRM) was not satisfactory. CRM covers effective crew management and coordination.

Update: In comments to CyprusNewsReport.com, Janko Stoimenov's wife Antoaneta said that her husband was a scapegoat in the whole process and that psychiatric tests were done not to Captain Merten but to the first officer Bambos when he was employed in Helios in 1999 long before any of the defendants was part of Helios.

"The psycho tests as you know give you the momentum picture which was confirmed from the psychiatrist who did the test in front of the court. From that time six years passed until the accident and this pilot  improved as it could be seen from his records. He was examined and tested during all these years from different authorized examiners and his pilot license was confirmed from UK CAA," said Mrs. Stoimenova.

The only witness who described Merten this way was a lady who failed her simulator checks several times and now is not even a pilot, she said.

"She was discredited by her own boss at that time who determined this as gossip attack."

Co-pilot Bambos Charalambous had been given a three-month warning as his own performance was unsatisfactory, according to Kallis' evidence. Both men had difficulty communicating with each other because of the language barrier.

Mrs. Stoimenov denies this, saying that "Bambos failed only one simulator check and after some extra training passed. He was examined later on from the same examiner who failed him and he confirmed in front of the court that Bambos was competent."

The two pilots flew together 22 times before the accident and there was no record of any complaint, said Mrs. Stoimenov. The language barrier was "another lie circulating" she said.

"Let's not forget that the German pilot  worked for several English companies including Easyjet before Helios," she added.

Stoimenova referred to Pat Richardson, a pilot and examiner who was the supervisor to Cypriot CAA, appointed  from UK CAA  and who had a detailed view over the three airline companies CA,Eurocypria and Helios.

"Richardson stated clearly in front of the two courts that if a pilot has passed all necessary exams and has a current license approved from the respective regulatory body, than he/she is competent to fly. Looking at files of Merten and Bambos she confirmed they were competent," said Stoimenova.

"It took three years for Cypriot judges to get into this matter and understand some principles and terminology in aviation.Their decision was seriously motivated in 73 pages.Despite the pressures to which they were exposed two of them had the courage to vote their conscience," she said.

Airline received warning from Civil Aviation

Adding to the overall picture of sloppy management and neglect, Helios Airlines itself received a warning letter from the Cyprus Civil Aviation Authority expressing concern over the lack of quality controls and inspections for the year 2004, say Kallis' findings.

The Helios Airlines plane crashed a year later, killing all 121 people aboard.

The investigation concludes that Helios was liable for hiring incompetent staff and failing to carry out quality checks to keep the aircraft in good condition. The non-binding findings were released shortly after Nicosia District Court acquitted Helios Airlines officials and ownership of negligent manslaughter on December 21st.

Helios Board Chairman Andreas Drakos, Chief Executive Officer Demetris Pantazis, Operations Manager Georgios Kikidis and Chief Pilot Janko Stoimenov were acquitted by a 2-1 majority judgement.

According to two of the judges, no link was proved between negligence in the company's operations and the tragic accident, which has been blamed on pilot error. Judge Nikolas Santis disagreed with the judgement.

Shortly after the decision, Attorney-general Petros Clerides said he would appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court. If the appeal is successful, the trial will start again and evidence from Kallis' investigation could be used in the new proceedings.

The plane crashed in Grammatikos near Athens in 2005, killing all passengers and crew on board. Investigators said that the accident was due to the pilots' failure to pressurise the cabin, and that the lack of oxygen plunged everyone on board into unconsciousness about 90 minutes into the flight en route to Prague.

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