Lebanon News

Bodies recovered from plane crash off Cyprus

A small boat passes near the German corvette Braunschweig docked in the the port of Limassol on October 23, 2014, allegedly carrying debris from a Diamond DA42 light aircraft that crashed off the Cyprus coast. AFP PHOTO/ Yiannis Kourtoglou

BEIRUT: The bodies of a Lebanese businessman and his Greek Cypriot flight instructor were found Thursday after their plane crashed Wednesday, following a distress call to Cypriot ground control about an apparent mechanical failure. A statement from the family of George Obagi, 47, confirmed that his remains had been found in Cypriot territorial waters. Obagi, who managed the Wadi al-Akhdar brand of canned foods, was a member of a large family of traders who trace their roots back to Aleppo. He was also on the board of directors for Peugeot dealerships for Lebanon and Syria.

Obagi and his companion Afghastinos Afghostine took off from Beirut’s airport at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday in a twin-engine Diamond DA 42 plane, according to a statement released by Lebanon’s Directorate of Civil Aviation.

Forty-four minutes into the 80-minute flight, while the plane was over Cypriot waters, it disappeared from Lebanese radar.

“Beirut ground control immediately contacted their Cypriot counterparts to ask about the reason for the plane’s disappearance from our radar screens,” the directorate’s statement said.

“They told us the plane had also disappeared from their radar and that they had lost radio contact two minutes after the last call between ground control and the pilot, who informed them of a technical problem in the plane.”

Captain Majed Assaf, a pilot and flight instructor, said small planes like the one that crashed Wednesday did not contain black boxes, and so it would be difficult to determine exactly what had happened in the plane’s final moments.

Based on his experience, however, he said the most likely scenario for a small multi-engine plane like the DIAMOND DA42 was that the critical motor had malfunctioned, sending the plane into a flat spin, which is nearly impossible to recover from, even for experienced pilots.

“There is always a risk of mechanical failure,” he said, adding that contrary to common assumptions, smaller planes were actually safer than large ones because they weighed less and could land almost anywhere in case of an emergency.

“Training cannot prepare you for a flat spin; it is only by chance you would recover,” he added.

Aviation authorities in Lebanon and Cyprus cooperated on an emergency plan of action that was supported by UNIFIL, which tasked three ships with search and rescue operations, the statement said. The Israeli navy also joined UNIFIL in the search.

Pieces of wreckage were found late Wednesday night, and both bodies just after noon Thursday, some 83 kilometers from Larnaca.

The Associated Press quoted the chief of Cyprus’ aircraft accidents board as saying that a German warship attached to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon would transport the wreckage to Cyprus for investigation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 24, 2014, on page 2.

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