That day, Irwin had started work at 1am, finished at around 6.30am and was planning to take his children to the beach. It was the school holidays and his family were over from Bedfordshire, where they lived during term time. At 8am, the phone rang. It was the operations centre at Helios asking Irwin to go into the office. He didn’t think much of it. “Sometimes the engineering manager just wanted to chat about the flying programme or shift patterns,” he says.
But Irwin found the operations room in crisis. They had lost radio contact with one of their planes. Flight 522 had taken off from Larnaca for Athens at 6.07am. The flight time was one hour and 45 minutes. It was now more than two hours since takeoff and the plane was still in the air, with 121 people on board. The office had received a chilling report from two jets scrambled by the Hellenic air force to intercept the plane: the captain’s seat was empty; the person in the first officer’s seat was slumped over the controls; the only three passengers visible were motionless, wearing oxygen masks; and masks were dangling from overhead units. “Everyone was thinking terrorism,” Irwin says.