TUE, 09 JAN 2001 18:50:58 GMT
AIM Athens, January 9, 2001
"Once again we see proof of the wanton negligence and irresponsibility prevalent in the crucial and vitally important services of the state - services where one would expect everything to operate flawlessly" noted the editorial of the country's second largest selling daily "Eleftherotypia" on 30 December 2000, with the title "No more crime!" It was commenting on the just released report of the investigation of the tragic accident in the Prime Minister's Falcon airplane that caused, on 14 September 1999, the death of the Alternate Foreign Minister Yannos Kranidiotis, his son and five other passengers, minutes before touchdown in Bucharest's airport.
The report gave ample telling evidence of -what ended up being criminal- negligence, so characteristic of the way the Greek state, if not also most other sectors of Greek society function. Released on the even of the country's accession to the EMU (euro zone), it was a sound reminder that while Greece's economic indicators warrant the country a place in the continent's elite, its social and structural problems make it more akin to its Balkan neighbors, without the excuse the latter have of being in a difficult transition out of their communist path.
"Inadequate knowledge and training of the pilots on the particular type of aircraft, which rendered them incapable of dealing with crisis situations (...) was deemed to have caused the deadly plunge of the presidential Falcon jet" added "Eleftherotypia." "The findings prove that the operation of the aircraft used to carry top ranking state officials was left more or less to chance, without a properly trained crew and without a strict monitoring of or regard for either lives or equipment."
So, the plane's initial sudden dive as it was approaching the Romanian airport, which the experts called "of minor significance" caused a small problem which because of negligence and incompetence developed into a disaster. Among the many errors of the crew reported, noteworthy were the following (as presented in "Eleftherotypia" and "Athens News" of 30 December):
· The crew's insufficient knowledge of the specific aircraft's system. The crew saw the light indicating a problem in the pitch-feel system, but did not properly assess it. The report also indicates that because the pilot was not properly fastened in his seat, he was unable to realize the degree of oscillation of the aircraft and thus immediately switch off the auto-pilot. The inability of the co-pilot to properly advise and aid the captain, is also viewed as a contributing factor.
· The crew's inadequate training. Despite the doubts expressed to him by their colleagues, the former director of Olympic's Flight Operations Bureau, Miltiadis Tsangarakis, "helped the crew advance and assigned them additional duties in violation of aviation regulations." It is reported that the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority had not officially approved the co-pilot's training.
· The inadequate evaluation of the crew's performance. Failings had been reported even in the training file of the Falcon's flight attendant, who permitted bulky items to be taken on board (TV camera, hand luggage, service cart, etc.) that were improperly secured and acted like "ice cubes in a cocktail shaker." As for the pilots, it is also reported that the director of the Division of Certificates and Licenses (DCL) had awarded competency to pilots of the Falcon without verifying the data on the training they received from Olympic Airways (OA). Furthermore, the DCL neglected to monitor the measures requested by the Transport Ministry following the memo by the actuary, A. Tsolakis, ascertaining deficiencies in the Falcon's handling.
· The use of the same crew to fly two types of aircraft with very different features (the Boeing 737 and the Falcon), resulting in a crew that was not sufficiently sensitive to and flexible in the handling of the specific type. In other words, there was no fleet of flying specialists on the Falcon - just some pilots who were picked (as described above) to fly it as an auxiliary duty.
· The lax regime under which the Falcon operated is also corroborated by the fact that the "black box" cockpit voice recorder was discovered to have been out of order since October 1996!
The report implicates both Olympic Airways and the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (HCAA) for insufficiently overseeing the maintenance of technical equipment and thus not detecting and restoring an existing malfunction in the aircraft's pitch-feel. Blame is ascribed as well to the director of the Flight Operations Bureau, who did not detect flaws in the aircraft and was responsible, moreover, for the selection, training and evaluation of the crew.
As "Eleftherotypia"'s editorial added: "the evidence shows that the aircraft consigned to carry the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet should not have been flown, but thrown into the trash - given the way it had been abandoned by the responsible authorities and all those entrusted to maintain it in peek condition. A fine picture of the State!"
The editorial concluded "the limits of tolerance have been exhausted. When an ordinary person hears and reads about such grotesque goings on at OA and the HCAA, involving, moreover, such exalted personages, how can s/he possibly feel safe and entrust her/his life to the hands of these irresponsible individuals? Consequently, the very least the public expects is that the government and Prime Minister seize the opportunity, posthaste, and clean up this corruption. There's no room for procrastination, and any laxity now constitutes a crime."
Unfortunately for Greece, there is plenty of room for laxity. Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who has been aptly described by a leading columnist -Richardos Someritis- as not governing, not even presiding, but just covering his back, did not and will probably not take any such swift action. Justice will of course assign blame to the perpetrators of the crimes, but the accomplices, especially the political and moral ones who have been allowing the state agencies to function like that, can rest assure that they run no risk of even losing their political job.
But they will all rise to the occasion to shout "bloody murder" every time the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) downgrades the HCAA from category 1 to category 2, for not meeting minimum safety standards, as it ironically did a week before the Falcon accident report was released. The FAA was denounced as conspiring against Greece and its tourist industry, perhaps also as blackmailing the country so that it takes tougher antiterrorism measures. All that undeservingly, as Greece is the safest place in the world, so many government mouthpieces keep declaring...