U.S. Blames Co-Pilot for EgyptAir Crash
Thu Mar 21, 2002 5:22 PM ET
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. investigators on Thursday blamed an EgyptAir
co-pilot for a 1999 crash into the
Atlantic, but could not explain why the veteran airman took the plane
down with 217 people as he calmly repeated the
phrase "I rely on God" in Arabic.
The Egyptian government rejected the report on Flight 990 as "flawed
from the outset" and its outcome predetermined.
Maintaining its belief that mechanical failure was to blame, Cairo said
it would appeal to the U.S. government.
Ending an investigation that strained relations between the United
States and one of its closest allies in the Middle East,
the National Transportation Safety Board (news - web sites) concluded
the probable cause of the crash was actions by
the co-pilot that put the Boeing 767-366 ER into a nose dive from 33,000
Investigators said they explored numerous possible reasons for Gamiel El
Batouty's actions, but more than two years
after the crash they could not pinpoint intent or motive.
Safety board and criminal investigators examined El Batouty's personal
background and work history thoroughly, but
found no credible evidence to suggest the crash was linked to any
unlawful activity or claims of personal misconduct.
Described in Egypt as a devoted family man, Batouty had been accused of
various lewd acts at a New York hotel
where pilots of the state-run carrier stayed. The Pennsylvania Hotel
even considered banning him, but EgyptAir said at
the time he was harmless and about to retire, FBI (news - web sites)
Also, investigators were told the airline had disciplined El Batouty the
evening before ill-fated flight, telling him he would
be removed from the lucrative Los Angeles-Cairo route.
But a source familiar with the investigation said the safety board could
not corroborate that information and it was not
cited in the final report.
EVENTS IN THE COCKPIT
Crash investigators said the nature and degree of the plane's steep
descent shortly into the New York to Cairo flight on
Oct. 31, 1999, could only be explained by events in the cockpit.
Investigators relied heavily on information from the flight data and
cockpit voice recorders.
The final report detailed the drama between the captain, Mahmoud
el-Habashy, and El Batouty as the aircraft plunged
from an altitude of more than six miles toward the ocean off the
From the outset the probe centered on El Batouty, who was alone in the
cockpit soon after takeoff when he quietly said
to himself in Arabic, "I rely on God."
"There were no sounds or events recorded by the flight recorders that
would indicate that an airplane anomaly or other
unusual circumstance preceded the relief first officer's statement," the
Seconds later, the auto pilot was disconnected and flight controls were
adjusted to push the plane nose-down. El
Batouty was heard repeating "I rely on God" several more times.
The captain returned and asked loudly: "What's happening? What's
STRUGGLE FOR CONTROL
The rate of descent began to decrease at this point before one or both
of the engines stopped.
"What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engine(s)?" the captain
asked El Batouty.
The crash report also noted that mechanisms in the tail, called
elevators, that control the up and down movement of
the nose were moving in opposite directions. This suggested a struggle
between the two men for control of the plane.
The captain repeatedly cried out "Pull with me" in an apparent effort to
save the aircraft.
The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECCA) called for more work,
saying U.S. officials did not consider evidence
supporting multiple failures in the elevator system. But the safety
board found nothing to support that theory.
NTSB (news - web sites) Chairwoman Marion Blakey called the probe
"The report's analysis and conclusions are firmly supported by the
physical evidence and recorded data," she said,
offering sympathies to the families of those killed.
The safety board noted El Batouty's failure to call for help or utter
any audible reaction of surprise after the plane began
to dive as evidence supporting its conclusion.
El Batouty's actions were "inconsistent with the reaction that would be
expected from a pilot who is encountering an
unexpected or uncommanded flight condition," the board said.
Aviation sources last week said board members wrestled over whether to
conclude that El Batouty acted deliberately,
and left out that language from the report.
An Egyptian investigator said, "The final report shows that the
Americans have retreated from their allegations
regarding the suicide of Batouty or that his action was premeditated."
In a response published with the report, Egyptian government
investigators criticized the investigation as "limited and
incomplete," accusing U.S. investigators of using selected facts to
support a predetermined conclusion.
Errors in translating words on the cockpit recorder spurred the NTSB to
focus on the presumed actions of the pilot, but
the agency included no evidence of intent or motive that would explain
El Batouty's actions, the ECCA said.