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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Passenger Plane Crashes Near Athens

ATHENS -- A Cypriot airliner carrying 121 people crashed north of Athens on Sunday after the pilot and a passenger reported cabin pressure problems moments before the plane was due to land.

"The pilot has turned blue," a passenger said in a mobile text message to his cousin, Greek television reported. "Cousin farewell, we're freezing," it said.

Greek fire chief Christos Smetis said there were no survivors among the 115 passengers and six crew. "The fire is still burning and there are no survivors," Smetis said.

Greek television station Alpha reported that the pilot had told air traffic controllers the Boeing 737 was experiencing air conditioning problems. Moments later, communications with the plane were lost.

Plane wreckage was scattered widely about the mountainous, uninhabited area, about 40 kilometers north of Athens, and dense black smoke billowed from several small fires.

"I saw many bodies scattered around, all of them wearing [oxygen] masks. The tail was cut off and the remaining parts of the plane rolled down a hillside about 500 meters away from the tail," one witness said.

Two Greek F-16 fighter jets were scrambled after the Helios Airways jet, en route from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague via Athens, lost contact with the control tower at Athens International Airport.

One of the F-16 pilots reported that he could not see the captain in the cockpit and his co-pilot appeared to be slumped in his seat, a Defense Ministry official said.

"I saw the plane coming. I knew it was serious or that it was some kind of VIP because I saw the two fighter jets," said witness Dimitris Karezas, who owns a summer camp in the area.

"Two, three minutes later, I heard a big bang," he said.

Greek police said there were no signs the plane had been hijacked.

Cypriot airport officials said flight HCY522 had left Larnaca at 9 a.m. local time and lost contact at 10:30 a.m.

The pilot appeared to have lost consciousness due to a loss in cabin pressure in the cockpit, Larnaca airport officials said on Cyprus state television CYBC.

"Although there are precedents for both pilots losing consciousness at the controls of aircraft in the past, for it to happen on a large airliner like a Boeing 737, with all the backup systems they have there, does seem to be really quite extraordinary," said Kieran Daly, editor of Air Transport Intelligence.

"It really is all very peculiar at the moment; I rather suspect we're heading for a very complicated investigation," he said.

A Greek police spokesman said 67 passengers were heading to Athens and 48 were continuing on to Prague.

A spokeswoman for the Czech Airport Authority, Anna Kovarikova, said the flight had been due to land in Prague at 1:10 a.m. local time.

As the extent of the disaster became clear, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis broke off his holiday on the Greek island of Tinos to rush back to Athens.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos was heading to Larnaca, where frantic relatives and friends began gathering outside the offices of Helios.