YESTERDAY’S Helios trial proceedings degenerated into a disturbing display of mass fury when enraged relatives of the Helios plane crash victims mobbed the airline company’s executive chairman, forcing police and others to tear him free and rush him off into a locked office for several hours until a secure escape plan could be established.
In the screaming and sobbing fracas that ensued over the following hours, a policeman was injured, elderly relatives fainted, and police reinforcements and an ambulance rushed to the scene.
Last month’s long-awaited publication of the investigative report on the August 21, 2005 plane crash in Grammatiko, Greece, which killed all 121 passengers and crew onboard, only intensified the fury of the relatives, who allege a whitewash has taken place.
Dozens of relatives encircled and lunged at the former executive chairman of Helios airlines Andreas Drakou during a break in legal proceedings soon after he testified that he had no knowledge that the airline had been understaffed and that the Board of Directors had assured him all safety measures had been met.
Due to the inadequate number of policemen on site at the International Conference Centre, airline lawyers and building staff came to the police’s aid, managing with difficulty to free Drakou from the grasp of the frenzied relatives, who were striking and clawing at him, literally tearing the clothes off him.
Forming a protective ring around Drakou, the police then ushered him into a nearby office, where he was guarded behind a locked door for around two hours. The black clad relatives then lined the hallway outside the door – some in stony silence, some sobbing, others screaming – demanding that the police let him out.
“You’re defending the murderer, the killer of our children!” one woman yelled at a young policeman, who was standing guard uncomfortably in front of the door. “Let him out and he can tell us who is guilty if not him!”
“Yes, let him out!” another woman screamed. “Let’s see him dead!… [I lost] a daughter and a son-in-law… He ruined our lives… No one will ever call me grandma! I’m going to choke him… I’m going to choke him!”
The yells reverberating through the hallway occasionally subsided into what would have been silence had it not been for the widespread sobbing. At one point an elderly woman nearly collapsed and had to be ushered out of the hallway by police.
“He’s the dragon, he wants to eat the whole world over,” she murmured, her hair plastered to her forehead, after being gently lowered into a giant black armchair.
“I met a hunter yesterday,” one of the more subdued relatives confided in another. “He told me that when they shoot three partridges they get fined but yet these people kill 121 people and they’re still discussing it.”
The relatives had blocked the entrances and exits but at one point someone suggested that the police may try to evacuate Drakou through one of the windows.
“No, he’s Drakou, he doesn’t escape through windows,” someone else said in a biting tone. “He’s respectable; he’s used to living in style.”
Despite what she said, a number of relatives rushed outside, fearing the police were staging a window evacuation. Journalists followed. The police then sent several officers to stand guard under the window, perhaps suspecting that one of the younger, more limber relatives might try to clamber up and enter the office through the window.
But the outdoor commotion proved an opportunity, and the police unlocked the office door and quickly ushered Drakou out through the hallway to the upstairs.
“There he is!” one relative cried. “Get him!” The scene again turned violent after the police formed a wall to try to block the stampede of relatives. “Don’t you dare hold me back!” one man cried. “Who are you to hold me back?”
The barricade soon collapsed and police, journalists and relatives all tore up to the street level of the Conference Centre.
“Is that him? There!” one relative cried out, pointing at a man who was clutching his head and being ushered into a police car. The relatives ran at the car but then stopped when they saw it was a policeman who had somehow been injured during the event.
Seeing that the police had successfully managed to evacuate Drakou from the premises, they then vented their wrath at the police.
“You enforce the law only for the simple people. For the big-shots the law doesn’t exist!”
“The police should be ashamed of themselves,” one woman yelled at one of the photographers.
“Madam, what else do you want them to do,” he replied. “They too have probably lost friends and maybe even relatives in the crash.”