Aviation Safety Suffers Further Setback Following Helios Conviction
HOOFDDORP, The Netherlands, April 26, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- A Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer has received a 10 year prison sentence by an Athens court for allegedly not resetting a cockpit switch following maintenance on the Helios Airways Boeing 737 ‐300 which crashed into a mountain near Athens in 2005 after its oxygen supply failed and the pilots and most of the passengers fell unconscious. It is difficult to grasp how aviation safety can be improved if the legal process surrounding an aircraft accident allows an engineer to be condemned to a prison sentence based on an "assumption" that a cockpit Switch (critical to flight safety) was set in the incorrect position. There was absolutely no evidence presented during the trial that the Engineers actions caused or even contributed to the accident. On the contrary, the conviction is based purely on the unproven supposition that the switch was left in the incorrect position although it was demonstrated by experts that that was unlikely. In fact some accident investigators maintain that the switch was still in AUTO (correct position) at impact. The factual evidence in the Helios case paints a rather different picture of the engineer than that suggested by this decision. The facts suggest an extremely conscientious and professional engineer performing the job at hand in an extremely professional manner. Perhaps most importantly, the decision makes the ground engineer criminally responsible for the configuration of the controls of the aircraft, prior to the flight crew joining and carrying out their pre‐flight and post take off checks. Such a proposition runs completely counter to the core proposition of division of responsibilities that every engineer and every pilot will recognise but which sadly various engineers and pilots called as witnesses on behalf of the prosecution felt able to deny. Once again we are witnessing a judicial process that offered an opportunity to improve aviation safety failing to meet that challenge preferring instead to allocate blame on an uninformed and irrational basis and with a mindset that someone must pay because an accident sadly causing deaths has occurred and society demands a scapegoat. The current trend of criminalising aircraft accidents serves no other purpose other than to undermine safety and will ultimately lead to more accidents. Despite all the rhetoric about aviation safety being paramount, the introduction of safety and quality management systems, the simple fact remains that due to a failure on the part of Europe to create a centre of investigatory excellence for the industry and to eliminate the inappropriate use of accident reports for criminal purposes; instead pandering to the blame culture, safety systems will fail to deliver what air travellers want - Safety in the skies.
There are .. what? over 350,000 members of this site. How about we DO something about it?
If we got 10% of the PPRuNe members to print off a well written letter, and put it in an envelope, and post it via snail mail, I think 35,000 old school letters swamping one post office box would at least get some media attention.If we got 50% of PPRuNe members (or sent a few letters each) it would be a really strong message. Who would be the best political recipient for such a letter? I think something tangable like a real letter would be much more effective than an online petition. Your thoughts?
I understand that the basic failure in this incident is the failure of the crew to carry out cockpit checks correctly and I can almost understand the pilots' mistaking the alarm horn and once having done so being of such a fixed mindset they did no further search for the correct cause. I can even understand that the pilots failed to notice a warning for the masks dropping in the cabin but I would have thought that, out of sheer self preservation, that when the aircraft continued to climb the CC would have called the cabin to draw attention to the masks. Surely you can't be CC for any length of time without getting to understand the effects of hypoxia and that time is limited?
As for the Greek courts, I have almost given up trying to understand the way other cultures work. Even within our own country assuming that other people think logically or even that the justice system is logical is to bet against the odds.
I was always taught that the prime purpose of the pilots' pre-flight check was to ensure that everything was configured correctly for a safe flight. Therefore, regardless of what had been done before, it is the pilot's responsibilty.
To hold the engineer responsible is totally against common sense, even if he had left the switch in the wrong position. I don't know anything about Greek justice but someone must intervene to prevent him being found guilty.
As others have said, the criminalisation of accident investigation flies in the face of fllght safety.
This event has highlighted the problem of using accident reports in criminal cases, especially when they are used as the only source of evidence as in the Greek Court.
When a 'proper' police based criminal investigation was done in Cyprus, all the defendants were aquitted.
Contributers to this thread have talked a lot about preflight checks etc but the bottom line is that:
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE AIRCRAFT TOOK OFF WITH THE PMS AT MAN
The assumption that it did was based entirely on an erroneous assumption that, as the PMS was found past the MAN mark after impact it must have been there since the engineer used it to do his check.
The PMS suffered very severe damage in the impact and it is only a "cooker switch".
Subsequent examination by world class investigators demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it was in fact at AUTO prior to being moved by the impact sequence.
The Greek Court did not accept this evidence by non-Greek aviation professionals.
Can I suggest that you send your letters/emails of protest about this miscarriage of justice to your national Accident Investigation Authority, demanding that the investigation be reopened for air safety reasons under Annex 13, 5.13 to establish the true cause of this accident.
After reading the official accident investigation from the Greek AAIASB, I note on page 62 that all 3 bleed switches were left in the OFF position. Surely this would make the pressurisation selector position irrelevant? Why has this not been noted in the report or the court cases? I find it scandelous that the engineer is facing a 10 year sentance for simply doing his job. I agree with earlier posts both on this site, and other (engineer) sites to write to parlaiment and The House of Lords to persuade the government to dissuade the Greeks from using a UK citizen as a scapegoat for this accident. Good luck Alan, I hope it works out for you.
All 3 bleed air switches were OFF and had not been moved by the impact - expanding on this would have spoilt the tidy little scenario.
It has since come to light that the pilots had selected both audio switches to MASK implying that they probably did don their masks at some stage - going to MASK is something pilots often forget to do.
Oh yes, and it has now been shown beyond reasonable doubt that the PMS was in AUTO at impact anyway.
The Court was told all of this but it evidently didn't fit the guilty verdict neatly enough.
It may be of interest to you that the Greek investigators never bothered to access the pre-impact status of any of these switches.
Audio Control Panels: Both captain's and first officers audio control panels were contained within the pedestal control panel. Each panel has a toggle switch that can be positioned to either "mask" or "Boom". Both the captain's and first officer's audio control panels were observed to be positioned to "MASK".
It is a while since I flew the Classic, and as you say 'toggle' (as I recall it too) it must be less likely that both would have been moved by impact, I would think, so it must be significant, especially since I think the movement required was forwards to the 'MASK' position..
The flightcrew didnt switch it back to AUTO for sure.Nor did they ever press horn cutout or operate the boom/mask switch or don masks.
What the FA who was also qualified as a pilot did with these switches 2 hours later is entirely a different matter.But the passengers were already dead by then werent they?
The engineer was not responsible I agree.
This was not a CRM accident.I dont agree the accident was the result of some company/culture malaise.It was a training/mindset issue and a wake up call to all aircrew of just how lethal and insidious hypoxia really is.Civilian aircrew dont even train it.If people are teaching it as a CRM crash,I disagree....both pilots were confused by the horn and suffered the same mindset.Crew coordination is immaterial to this one(except FA's-they saw the masks but couldnt or chose not to get into the cockpit??)
Hi everybody, Just to put some clarification, as the thread is drifting more towards protecting Irwin. The other 3 defendants should not be prosecuted as well. The dangerous precedent that this farce is setting - to blame the management team for an yet unproven pilot error will give even more free hand to authorities and individuals to use airline employees as scapegoats. If we do not unify and make sure the Greek government and the EU commission hear our voices a new dark age will fall upon the airline industry - nobody will be willing to share any info that might be used against him. And eventually SAFETY WILL PLUMMET!
Very nice that you wrote to your MP, he can do nothing anyway. The only ones that can do something are the lawyers, nobody else. Let us hope that the Greek D.A. did not yet sent out an european arrest warrant!