Helios Airways Flight 522 Crashes

On August 14, 2005, Helios Airways Flight 522 crashed into a mountain while on a flight from Larnaca, Cyprus. All 121 passengers and crew were killed in the crash, making it the deadliest in Greek history.

Tail of Helios Flight 522 (credit: AAIASB report)

The Boeing 737-300 aircraft departed Cyprus with an improper pre-flight pressurization configuration, which lead to pilot incapacitation due to hypoxia. The aircraft eventually ran out of fuel and crashed.

In its Final Report on the crash, the Hellenic Republic’s Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board stated:

“On 14 August 2005, a Boeing 737-300 aircraft, registration number 5B-DBY, operated by Helios Airways, departed Larnaca, Cyprus at 06:07 h for Prague, Czech Republic, via Athens, Hellas. The aircraft was cleared to climb to FL340 and to proceed direct to RDS VOR. As the aircraft climbed through 16 000 ft, the Captain contacted the company Operations Centre and reported a Take-off Configuration Warning and an Equipment Cooling system problem. Several communications between the Captain and the Operations Centre took place in the next eight minutes concerning the above problems and ended as the aircraft climbed through 28 900 ft. Thereafter, there was no response to radio calls to the aircraft. During the climb, at an aircraft altitude of 18 200 ft, the passenger oxygen masks deployed in the cabin. The aircraft leveled off at FL340 and continued on its programmed route.

Artistic depiction of Helios Flight 522 (credit: wiki user Anynobody)

At 07:21 h, the aircraft flew over the KEA VOR, then over the Athens International Airport, and subsequently entered the KEA VOR holding pattern at 07:38 h. At 08:24 h, during the sixth holding pattern, the Boeing 737 was intercepted by two F-16 aircraft of the Hellenic Air Force. One of the F-16 pilots observed the aircraft at close range and reported at 08:32 h that the Captain’s seat was vacant, the First Officer’s seat was occupied by someone who was slumped over the controls, the passenger oxygen masks were seen dangling and three motionless passengers were seen seated wearing oxygen masks in the cabin. No external damage or fire was noted and the aircraft was not responding to radio calls. At 08:49 h, he reported a person not wearing an oxygen mask entering the cockpit and occupying the Captain’s seat. The F-16 pilot tried to attract his attention without success. At 08:50 h, the left engine flamed out due to fuel depletion and the aircraft started descending. At 08:54 h, two MAYDAY messages were recorded on the CVR.

At 09:00 h, the right engine also flamed out at an altitude of approximately 7 100 ft. The aircraft continued descending rapidly and impacted hilly terrain at 09:03 h in the vicinity of Grammatiko village, Hellas, approximately 33 km northwest of the Athens International Airport. The 115 passengers and 6 crew members on board were fatally injured. The aircraft was destroyed.

The Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board (AAIASB) of the Hellenic Ministry of Transport & Communications investigated the accident following ICAO practices and determined that the accident resulted from direct and latent causes.

The direct causes were:

  • Non-recognition that the cabin pressurization mode selector was in the MAN (manual) position during the performance of the Preflight procedure, the Before Start checklist and the After Takeoff checklist.
  •  Non-identification of the warnings and the reasons for the activation of the warnings (Cabin Altitude Warning Horn, Passenger Oxygen Masks Deployment indication, Master Caution).
  •  Incapacitation of the flight crew due to hypoxia, resulting in the continuation of the flight via the flight management computer and the autopilot, depletion of the fuel and engine flameout, and the impact of the aircraft with the ground.

The latent causes were:

  •  Operator’s deficiencies in the organization, quality management, and safety culture.
  •  Regulatory Authority’s diachronic inadequate execution of its safety oversight responsibilities.
  •  Inadequate application of Crew Resource Management principles.
  •  Ineffectiveness of measures taken by the manufacturer in response to previous pressurization incidents in the particular type of aircraft.

The AAIASB further concluded that the following factors could have contributed to the accident: omission of returning the cabin pressurization mode selector to the AUTO position after non-scheduled maintenance on the aircraft; lack of cabin crew procedures (at an international level) to address events involving loss of pressurization and continuation of the climb despite passenger oxygen masks deployment; and ineffectiveness of international aviation authorities to enforce implementation of actions plans resulting from deficiencies documented in audits.”

The report on the Helios Flight 522 crash can be found here:

Accident Report – Helios Flight 522