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Cyprus

Air crash investigators find task difficult

Air crash debris being taken away for examination

By Evie Andreou

THE absence of a black box and a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) from the aircraft that crashed into the sea between Cyprus and Lebanon on Wednesday killing both people on board, makes the investigation into the accident more difficult, the senior investigator into the case said yesterday.

Yiannakis Loizou, head of the Air Accident Incident Investigation Board (AAIIB) said his team is searching the causes of the crash of the twin-prop Diamond DA42 on Wednesday night en route to Beirut causing the death of Cypriot pilot Avgoustinos Avgousti, 54, and Lebanese businessman and trainee pilot George Obaji, 47.

It will not be an easy task, however, since from the aircraft’s collected debris its two engines and the cockpit are missing.

“At this point we cannot draw any conclusions for the simple reason that essential parts are missing, like the engines and the cockpit of the aircraft. We only have the tail and some pieces of the fuselage,” Loizou told CyBC radio.

He added that the remaining pieces of the aircraft lay at the sea bed at 2,000 meters depth and that their collection is impossible without a seep-sea submersible and a special robot.

He also said that there is need to find more pieces of the debris.

“A start, of course, is also the discussion with the control tower but it doesn’t help shed light since when he (the pilot) mentioned a small problem, he didn’t say what the problem was,” Loizou said.

He added that the state of the collected debris indicate that there was a violent impact in the sea.

“Liquid does not compress so it is worse than granite that’s why the aircraft was shattered to small pieces. The biggest piece is the tail of around 1.5 metres,” Loizou said.

At noon, the defence ministry announced the conclusion of the search and rescue mission that begun on Wednesday when the aircraft disappeared from the radar of the Nicosia flight information region (FIR) at 7.04pm, some 80 kilometres south east of Larnaca.

“This outcome, regardless of its tragic nature, is due to the rapid response of the Cyprus authorities under the coordination of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) of the Republic, which was immediately mobilised, according to the national SAR plan ‘NEARCHOS’, after being notified that the trace of the aircraft was lost,” the ministry said in a written statement.

It added that the port and naval police and the National Guard mobilised at sea and in the air to carry out a coordinated search which traced the point of impact.

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

The last communication with the control tower was when at about 40 nautical miles outside Larnaca the aircraft was authorised to plot a new route, which 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 pilot replied that he was now heading there and that he was encountering a small problem he was trying to fix.

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 the tower control.

Loizou said on Thursday that the tower control next heard sounds coming from the plane and tried to contact the pilot as did other aircraft in the area, but without any success.

The debris, which were taken to a location near Larnaca airport for the AAIIB to begin its investigation, were located some 45 nautical miles south-east of Larnaca, as well as the bodies of the two men.

Defence Minister Christophoros Fokaides said yesterday that there was no evidence to suggest interference from Turkish warships which were not near at the time of the accident.

He reiterated that during the search and rescue operation, there was no communication between the Larnaca Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) and the Turkish ships that rushed to the area where the aircraft fell. He added that when the realised that the operation was headed by the JRCC they left.

The Mediterranean Institute of Flight Safety urged everyone to wait for the results and refrain from commenting on airplane accidents while the investigation is underway for ethical reasons and respect for the victims’ families.

“We observe that many comments are made about the accident of the small aircraft off the coast of Cyprus, most of which are just speculation and not serious, since no one knows the exact details,” the announcement said.

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