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Experts: Flight attendant flew jet that crashed

A flight attendant was in control of the Cypriot Helios Airways plane before it crashed on a Greek hillside on Aug. 14, killing all 121 people on board in Europe’s worst air disaster this year, experts said on Monday.
PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2005
A Greek forensic expert walks past the tail of a Cypriot Helios airliner that crashed Aug. 14 in Grammatiko, Greece, about 25 miles northeast of Athens. Experts say a flight attendant was at the controls for 10 to 12 minutes before it crashed, killing all 121 passengers aboard.Yiorgos Karahalis / Reuters file
/ Source: Reuters

A flight attendant was in control of a Cypriot Helios Airways plane before it crashed on a Greek hillside on Aug. 14, killing all 121 people on board in Europe’s worst air disaster this year, experts said on Monday.

Aviation experts said after re-enacting the doomed Boeing 737-300 flight from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague, that the steward, who had some flight training and used an emergency oxygen kit, actually flew the plane for 10 to 12 minutes.

“We have indications that (he) controlled the plane. He took a portable oxygen device and opened the cockpit door using a code,” Seraphim Kamoutsis, head of the Greek investigations team, told a news conference after the simulation.

Investigators are trying to work out what happened on the plane to render its two pilots unconscious, leaving the aircraft in the hands of the flight attendant before it crashed from lack of fuel. Until the simulation, it was not clear whether he managed to fly the plane or just grappled with controls.

Re-enactments of flights are unusual, and Monday’s flight in the depths of winter failed to match the clear, almost perfect flying conditions of the Sunday morning in August.

Helios, a subsidiary of Britain’s Libra Holiday Group, has defended its maintenance record but disclosed the aircraft had previously had decompression problems.

Decompression reduces oxygen supply and can lead to rapid loss of consciousness for those on board.

The experts said they partially compressed the plane in an effort to mimic the conditions of the flight but declined to give further details. The findings of the investigation are expected in February.

“We got what we wanted from the flight,” chief investigator Akrivos Tsolakis told the news conference but did not elaborate.