news: CYPRUS

Island mourns for crash victims

Cyprus has ended three days of public mourning as the island of less than one million people struggles to come to terms with its biggest ever peacetime disaster. Flags on public buildings flew at half-mast and the streets of the capital, Nicosia, were deserted.

All 121 passengers and crew aboard Flight 522 died when the aircraft hit a hill after an apparent drop in cabin pressure knocked out both pilots. Tests on the bodies appear to confirm that most of the victims froze to death before the actual crash.

The plane, which was bound for Prague with a scheduled stop in Athens, crashed shortly after noon local time on Sunday. Crews of Greek F-16 fighter jets, scrambled after contact with the airliner was lost, reported seeing the pilots slumped in the cabin.

Cypriot police have also raided the offices of Helios Airways, the operator responsible for the flight. Officials said the police were looking for documents that could be useful in a possible future criminal investigation.

Aviation experts and investigators are struggling to unravel the sequence of events leading to the crash. All but 11 of the victims were Cypriot and some 17 children are believed to have been among those who died.