Cyprus high court orders retrial over Greek air disaster

NICOSIA Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:44am EST

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus's highest court on Tuesday ordered a retrial for a now defunct airline and former senior executives who were acquitted of charges over a 2005 crash in Greece that killed 121 people.

In a majority decision Cyprus's full-bench Supreme Court upheld an appeal filed by the attorney-general, Cyprus's chief prosecutor, against a 2011 verdict which cleared the airline Helios and four executives of manslaughter and negligence charges.

In a separate trial in Greece last April, three of the executives were convicted in absentia of manslaughter and negligence and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Their lawyers at the time said they would appeal.

The August 14, 2005 crash on a hillside north of Athens was the deadliest ever recorded in Greece or Cyprus, where most of the victims of the disaster lived.

Investigators said a failure to switch a valve regulating oxygen supply to the aircraft knocked its pilots and most of the passengers unconscious shortly after the plane took off from Cyprus. The airline's safety culture drew criticism.

The Boeing 737-300 jet flew on autopilot in Greek air space for two hours before it ran out of fuel and smashed into a hillside.

Greek air force pilots scrambled to trail the aircraft when it failed to make radio contact saw a lone man at the controls of the plane, apparently trying in vain to avert the disaster.

(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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