December 23, 2008 / 2:07 PM / 10 years ago

Cyprus files charges over airline disaster

NICOSIA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Cypriot prosecutors filed charges in court on Tuesday against five people for a 2005 plane crash which killed 121 people in Greece’s worst air disaster.

The Helios Airways Boeing 737-300 was travelling from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague when it crashed north of Athens on Aug. 14 2005, killing everyone on board.

In documents submitted to Cyprus courts on Tuesday, public prosecutors listed charges of manslaughter and causing death through negligence.

Prosecution officials said five people were named in the documents. Their identities were not publicly disclosed.

"Indictments will be delivered and the date set for the individuals to respond is Feb. 26," Cyprus’s deputy attorney-general Akis Papasavvas said. "The charges concern two of the three most serious offences under the Cyprus penal code."

Failure to switch a valve regulating oxygen supply to the aircraft knocked its pilots and most of the passengers unconscious shortly after the plane took off from Larnaca, investigators found.

The aircraft glided on autopilot in Greek air space for two hours before it ran out of fuel and smashed into a hillside.

A flight attendant with a trainee pilot’s licence, probably the only person conscious on the plane, took the controls and tried in vain to avert the disaster. He was spotted in the cockpit by Greek pilots of two F-16s scrambled to trail the Boeing.

An inquiry by Greek authorities published in Oct. 2006 cited perceived deficiencies in the safety culture of the airline.

Under Cyprus law, manslaughter carries a maximum jail term of life, and death through negligence or reckless behaviour four years.

Helios, which was renamed after the disaster, has since shut down.

(Writing by Michele Kambas, editing by Richard Williams)

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