Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Crash: The Strange Fate of Flight ZU522

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Crash: The Strange Fate of Flight ZU522

Article excerpt

Ninety-five bodies lie in an Athens morgue, testimony to the loss of life aboard Helios Airways Flight ZU522 on 14 August. None has a name; none has any identifiable attribute.

When relatives visited the mortuary to pick out those they had lost in Greece's biggest and strangest air disaster, they spent far longer with the dead than anyone expected. I watched as they waited in the merciless midday sun, and I watched as they came out, wailing cries of grief. The horrible truth, too awful to articulate, was that most of the corpses were charred beyond recognition.

The following day I visited the scene of the crash. The Cypriot airliner struck a mountain cliff before disintegrating over a sprawling ravine. Wreckage littered the lush, bucolic countryside and Inspector Giorgos Polydoras pointed out the Boeing 737's tail. The tail section was evidently the first bit of the plane to fall to earth. Nearly intact, it lay on its side with the golden features of the sun god Apollo, the airline's cheery symbol, staring into the Attic sky. The sight took my breath away.

I was similarly stunned when those who had been first on the scene reported what they had seen. Contrary to widespread belief, insisted residents of the nearby town of Grammatiko, the blaze that was soon to engulf the area had yet to take hold.

"When we got there, we saw bodies everywhere, strewn among the wreckage of the plane," said Vassilis Tourkoantonis. "There were small children still locked into their seats, like plastic dolls. There were small fires, burning here and there, but you could have pissed and put them out. Instead, they were allowed to get out of control. There was something out there that the state wanted to hide."

When George Papageorgiou, the mayor of Grammatiko, visited the site he, too, saw little sign of flames that would reduce bodies and debris to cinders. …

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