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Cyprus

Bodies of missing airmen recovered (Update 3: adds communication with tower)

Limassol port on Thursday

By Evie Andreou

THE BODIES of the two men believed to have been on board of the 5B-CLI, twin-prop Diamond DA42 training plane that crashed on Wednesday night en route to Beirut from Cyprus are in the process of being officially identified, the defence ministry said on Thursday.

Authorities will establish if the two men are Cypriot Avgoustinos Avgousti, 54, a father of three and Lebanese George Obagi, 54, a father of two children. The two bodies were brought ashore at Limassol Port by two UNIFIL ships that had also transported the debris from the plane.

At the port were relatives of Avgousti as well as the two state pathologists Sophoclis Sophocleous and Nicolas Charalambous.

The two bodies were transferred to Limassol general hospital for DNA testing for identification.

“Examination of the bodies will take place after the DNA results are ready,” Charalambous said, and added that many tests would be needed before the findings were announced.

The bodies were recovered at around 11am after an all-night search near the plane’s debris, some 45 nautical miles south-east of Larnaca.

Parts of the aircraft’s debris, which disappeared from the radar of the Nicosia flight information region (FIR) at 7.04pm some 80 kilometres south east of Larnaca on Wednesday, were spotted floating at sea by a Greek tanker.

The debris fished out so far was taken to a location near Larnaca airport so that the Aircraft Accident Incident Investigation Board (AAIIB) could begin investigating to determine the cause of the crash.

The aircraft took off from Paphos Airport at 6.20pm on Wednesday and reports suggested the plane, belonging to Avgousti’s pilot training school based in Paphos, started circling over Akrotiri at an altitude of 9,000 feet.

Tower control asked the pilot if he was encountering a problem and he replied that he had a minor problem and that he was trying to solve it.

When the plane was about 40 nautical miles outside Larnaca, an air traffic controller authorised the pilot to plot a new waypoint. The pilot confirmed. A while later the traffic controller contacted the pilot again to ask why he did not head in the direction agreed, to which the aviator replied that he was now heading there.

“I’m heading straight there now, I had a little problem which we’re fixing.” The controller came back saying “if you have any problems we are here to help.” The pilot then responded something along the lines, “Ok, no problem.” That was the last communication with tower control.

According to AAIIB head Yiannakis Loizou, tower control next heard sounds coming from the plane and tried to get the pilot on the horn. Other aircraft in the area also tried to contact the pilot but without success.

“The aircraft was new and the pilot was very experienced,” Loizou said.

Avgousti was the owner of a flight school.

The plane dropped to 6,000 feet and then it disappeared from the radar at 7.04pm.

The Cyprus Civil Aviation department announced at 7.18pm that Nicosia FIR was on alert and notified the Larnaca Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), which deployed a search and rescue operation.

The search for the two men was led by the JRCC with two coast guard vessels and a helicopter, while Israel and Lebanon had sent aircrafts to assist in the search.

The AAIIB’s Loizou said establishing what went wrong would be a difficult task, given that the plane did not have a cockpit voice recorder nor a flight data recorder.

As such investigators would have to work only with the debris. Neither the cockpit nor the engines have been recovered yet.

The largest piece of debris recovered – part of the fuselage – measures two metres long by one metre wide.

Given that the heavier parts must have already sunk to the sea bottom, at a depth of some 6,000 feet, special robots would need to be used, Loizou said.

CyBC reported that the defence ministry denied that two Turkish warships shadowing ENI’s drillship, the Saipem 10000, had participated in the rescue operation as claimed by the Turkish army yesterday.

 

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