They were finally called in by airline staff to check a passenger list.
“Butchers, butchers, they killed my children,” one distraught relative screamed, echoing widespread fury with the airline, Helios Airways, the Mediterranean resort island’s only private carrier. “I want them to bring my children back.”
About 300 anxious family members queued in the canteen of the island’s main international airport from which the doomed plane took off with 121 people on board to be told the devastating news one by one.
Several collapsed, overcome by grief, and were taken by stretcher out to waiting ambulances.
Airline officials acknowledged that they were still not sure that the manifest they were working from was the definitive list of passengers who actually boarded Flight 522 for Prague via Athens.
Bodies of the victims were burnt
“It is not a definitive list but we are doing this to try to help the grieving relatives,” said Helios representative Nicos Anastassiades.
Communications Minister Haris Thrassou echoed the families’ criticism of the airline’s inability to say precisely who was on board quickly.
“There should have been a complete list of names with more than just initials and surnames,” the minister said.
“They (Helios) also delayed in giving us lists for two to three hours when we and the police requested them.”
The airline later put out a statement, saying: “The names of the passengers were submitted in a timely manner to the authorities in Greece and Cyprus who have taken on the job of contacting the relatives.”
The minister said a flight out to Athens for bereaved relatives would leave at 9.30am (0630 GMT) on Monday. He appealed to close relatives to travel so they could provide DNA samples for identification purposes.
“Unfortunately, after the crash, there was a fire for a few hours and the bodies were completely burned,” he said grimly.
A relative of a passenger gives a
A Helios official in Athens, George Dimitriou, confirmed that the passengers were largely Cypriots with “a certain number of Greeks and only a few foreigners”.
It was the first serious air accident in nearly four decades to hit the small island of less than a million people.
Tourism is Cyprus‘s biggest source of income and the crash came at the height of the island’s summer holiday season.
Relatives’ anger had mounted throughout the afternoon as worried family members rushed to Larnaca airport after news of the crash broke around midday.
“Tell us if our relatives are dead,” some cried when Helios officials arrived at the airport after about two hours to brief family members. “Give us the names, we have waited too long.”
Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos interrupted his holidays to rush to the airport for talks with airline and civil aviation officials.
“First indications from the Greek authorities are that this was not a terrorist attack”
The government later announced three days of official mourning from Monday during which flags will be flown at half mast on all government buildings.
“At this difficult time, I want to assure the relatives that we will do everything to support them and I give my deepest condolences,” said a statement read on the president’s behalf by spokesman Christodoulos Pashardes.
Officials were quick to stress that there was no immediate evidence to suggest the crash was anything other than an accident.
“First indications from the Greek authorities are that this was not a terrorist attack,” presidential spokesman Marios Karoyan said.
But Helios managing director Demetrios Pantazis acknowledged that the airline had little idea of the cause of the crash.
“We can’t say at this time what exactly happened.”