ATHENS – The tragic death of a 22-year-old British tourist killed when hit by a helicopter blade after he just got off is seen likely to change safety measures for such flights in Greece that have become more popular.
While investigations are still ongoing, Greece’s Chief Air Accident investigator Ioannis Kondylis told the British newspaper The Guardian that he wants to now why the helicopter engines were still running before passengers got off.
“That was the question I asked the pilot and the ground engineers … and they responded they have two procedures, both approved by civil aviation,” which allow passengers to disembark when propellers are moving.
But that’s only if the doors were opened from the outside and ground staff escorted them to the terminal to prevent them from being hit and that a second procedure sees engines switched off.
“I think as a precaution, for obvious safety reasons, we will be recommending the procedure is changed and the engines are turned off,” he added, saying that findings would also be sent to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Fenton was killed instantly when struck by the tail rotor of the helicopter that was chartered to bring him and a group of friends to a birthday celebration on the popular island of Mykonos.
The privately chartered aircraft, part of a fleet operated by the Megara-based company Superior Air, had only minutes earlier landed at the Lolos helipad close to Athens International Airport.
Spinning at up to 500 rotations a second, the propeller would have been virtually invisible, experts said, meaning he walked into it without seeing it.
Greek police initially indicated the accident happened when he defied regulations to try to take a selfie photo after safely getting off, with Greek media reporting he was running back toward the tail with his phone in hand with others screaming at him to stop going.
But a schoolfriend traveling with Fenton reportedly denied that and said the group wasn’t escorted off nor given any instructions on how to move safely away after they got off the helicopter.
“All they did was open the doors for us,” Jack Stanton-Gleaves was quoted as telling Mail Online. “We disembarked on our own and no one stopped Jack from going to the rear of the helicopter.”
The aircraft’s pilot and two ground engineers were arrested but then released pending the results of an emergency inquiry ordered by a Greek public prosecutor and could face involuntary manslaughter charges if found negligent.
Kondylis said the probe would depend on witness testimony and any other factual information because, unlike planes, helicopters did not have flight data and cockpit voice recorders, the newspaper said.
“We cannot just accept what they say,” he said of Superior Air. “They have to show proof. We are waiting for evidence of their written procedures and their airways’ manual. I have learned that there were five other passengers waiting in the terminus and they will have seen what happened. Their evidence will be very important. Perhaps one of them took a video, factual information that cannot be denied,” he added.