EgyptAir Flight 990: Wikis

  
  

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EgyptAir Flight 990

SU-GAP at Düsseldorf in 1992.
Occurrence summary
Date October 31, 1999
Type Disputed
Site Atlantic Ocean, 100 km (60 miles) S of Nantucket
Passengers 203
Crew 14
Fatalities 217 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 767-366ER
Aircraft name Tuthmosis III
Operator EgyptAir
Tail number SU-GAP
Flight origin Los Angeles International Airport
Last stopover John F. Kennedy International Airport
Destination Cairo International Airport

EgyptAir Flight 990 (MSR990) was a regularly scheduled Los Angeles-New York-Cairo flight. On October 31, 1999, at around 01:50 EST, the aircraft operating Flight 990 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, in international waters, killing all of the 217 people on board.

The exact cause of the crash is disputed. Egyptian investigators concluded that the aircraft crashed as a result of mechanical failure, while U.S. investigators concluded the aircraft was deliberately crashed in an apparent suicide.

Contents

Flight details

Flight 990 was being flown in a Boeing 767-366ER aircraft with the registration SU-GAP, named Tuthmosis III after a pharaoh from the 18th Dynasty. The aircraft, a stretched extended range version of the normal 767, was the 282nd 767 built. It was delivered to EgyptAir as a brand new aircraft on September 26, 1989.[1]

Flight 990 was crewed by 14 people: 10 flight attendants and 4 flight crew members. Because of the scheduled flight time, the flight required two complete flight crews (each consisting of one captain and one first officer). EgyptAir designated one crew as the "active crew" and the other as the "cruise crew" (sometimes also referred to as the "relief crew"). It was customary for the active crew to make the takeoff and fly the first four to five hours of the flight. The cruise crew then assumed control of the aircraft until about one to two hours prior to landing, at which point the active crew returned to the cockpit and assumed control of the airplane. EgyptAir designated the captain of the active crew as the Pilot-in-Command or the Commander of the flight. The active crew consisted of Captain Mahmoud El Habashy and First Officer Adel Anwar, and the cruise crew were Captain Amal El Sayed and First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti (the NTSB reports use the spelling "El Batouty").[2]

While the cruise crew was intended to take over far into the flight, Batouti recommended that he relieve Anwar twenty minutes after takeoff. Anwar initially protested, but eventually agreed.[3]

Passengers

The flight was carrying 203 passengers from seven countries (Canada, Egypt, Germany, Sudan, Syria, United States, and Zimbabwe).[1][4] Of the passengers, four were non-revenue EgyptAir crew members. Of the passengers, 32 boarded in Los Angeles, while the rest boarded in New York.[5] Many of the passengers were elderly Americans who intended to visit Egypt as tourists.[6] Included in the passenger manifest were over 30 Egyptian military officers; among them were two brigadiers-general, a colonel, major, and four other air force officers. After the crash newspapers in Cairo were prevented by censors from reporting the officers' presence on the flight.[7]

ATC tracking

Flight profile of EA990 (Source:NTSB)

U.S. Air Traffic Controllers provide transatlantic flight control operations as a part of the "New York Center" (referred to in radio conversations simply as "Center" and abbreviated in the reports as "ZNY"). The airspace is divided into "areas," and "Area F" was the section that oversaw the airspace through which Flight 990 was flying. Transatlantic commercial air traffic travels via a system of routes called North Atlantic Tracks, and Flight 990 was the only aircraft at the time assigned to fly North Atlantic Track Zulu. There are also a number of military operations areas over the Atlantic, called "Warning Areas," which are also monitored by New York Center, but records show that these were inactive the night of the accident.[8]

Interaction between ZNY and Flight 990 was completely routine. After takeoff, Flight 990 was handled by three different controllers as it climbed up in stages to its assigned cruising altitude.[8] The aircraft, like all commercial airliners, was equipped with a Mode C transponder, which automatically reported the plane's altitude when queried by the ATC radar. At 01:44, the transponder indicated that Flight 990 had leveled off at FL330. Three minutes later, the controller requested that Flight 990 switch communications radio frequencies for better reception. A pilot on Flight 990 acknowledged on the new frequency. This was the last transmission received from Flight 990.

The records of the radar returns then indicate a sharp descent:[8] The times which begin 06: appear to be in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is 5 hours ahead of United States Eastern Standard Time (EST), explaining the difference between other time references here that begin 01:.

  • 06:49:53Z — FL329
  • 06:50:05Z — FL315
  • 06:50:17Z — FL254
  • 06:50:29Z — FL183 (this was the last altitude report received by ATC)

The plane dropped 14,600 feet (4,500 m) (nearly three miles) in 36 seconds. Several subsequent "primary" returns (simple radar reflections without the encoded Mode C altitude information) were received by ATC, the last being at 06:52:05. At 06:54, the ATC controller tried notifying Flight 990 that radar contact had been lost, but received no reply.[8]

Two minutes later, the controller contacted ARINC to determine if Flight 990 had switched to an oceanic frequency too early. ARINC attempted to contact Flight 990 on SELCAL, also with no response. The controller then contacted a nearby aircraft, Lufthansa Flight 499, asking it to see if it could raise Flight 990. The German carrier responded that it had no radio contact and was not receiving any ELT signals. Air France Flight 439 was asked to overfly the last known position of Flight 990, but reported nothing out of the ordinary. Center also provided coordinates of Flight 990's last-known position to Coast Guard rescue aircraft.[8]

Crash

Flight data showed that the flight controls were used to move the elevators in order to initiate and sustain the steep dive. The flight deviated from its assigned altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 m) (FL330) and dived to 16,000 feet (4,900 m) over 44 seconds, then climbed to 24,000 feet (7,300 m) and began a final dive, hitting the Atlantic Ocean about two and a half minutes after leaving FL330.[3] Radar and radio contact was lost 30 minutes after the aircraft departed JFK Airport in New York on its flight to Cairo.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the Captain excusing himself to go to the bathroom, followed thirty seconds later by the First Officer saying, "I rely on God." A minute later, the autopilot was disengaged, immediately followed by the First Officer again saying, "I rely on God." Three seconds later, the throttle for both engines was reduced to zero, and both elevators were moved three degrees, nose down. The First Officer repeated "I rely on God" six more times before the Captain is suddenly heard to ask repeatedly, "What's happening, what's happening?" The flight data recorder reflected that the Captain then commanded the nose up while the First Officer commanded the nose down, at the same time as the engines were shut down. The Captain asked, "What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engines?" There were no other aircraft in the area. There was no indication that an explosion occurred on board. The engines operated normally for the entire flight until they were shut down. The left engine was later torn from the wing by the stress of the dive.

Search and rescue operations

The USCG cutters Monomoy (foreground) and Spencer searching for survivors of the crash.

Search and rescue operations were launched within minutes of the loss of radar contact, with the bulk of the operation being conducted by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). At 03:00, an HU-25 Falcon jet took off from Air Station Cape Cod, becoming the first rescue party to reach the last known position of the plane. All USCG cutters in the area were immediately diverted to search for the aircraft, and an urgent marine information broadcast was issued, requesting mariners in the area to keep a lookout for the downed aircraft.

At sunrise, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy training vessel Kings Pointer found an oil sheen and some small pieces of debris. Rescue efforts continued by air and by sea, with a group of USCG cutters covering 10,000 square miles (26,000 km2) on 31 October with the hope of locating survivors, but only a single body was recovered from the debris field. Atlantic Strike Team members brought two truckloads of equipment from Fort Dix to Newport to set up an incident command post. Officials from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were dispatched to join the command. The search and rescue operation was eventually suspended on 1 November 1999, with the rescue vessels and aircraft moving instead to recovery operations.

These operations ceased when the naval vessels USS Grapple and USNS Mohawk and the NOAA research vessel Whiting arrived to take over salvage efforts, including recovery of the bulk of the wreckage from the seabed. In total a C-130, an H-60 helicopter, the HU-25 Falcon and the Coast Guard cutters Monomoy, Spencer, Reliance, Bainbridge Island, Juniper, Point Highland, Chinook, and Hammerhead, along with their supporting helicopters, participated in the search.[9]

A second salvage effort was made in March 2000 that recovered the aircraft's second engine and some of the cockpit controls.[10]

Investigation

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent tags the cockpit voice recorder from EgyptAir Flight 990 on the deck of the USS Grapple (ARS 53) at the crash site on November 13, 1999.

Under the International Civil Aviation Organization treaty, the investigation of an airplane crash in international waters is under the jurisdiction of the country of registry of the aircraft. At the request of the Egyptian government, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) took the lead in this investigation, with the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) participating. The investigation was supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, EgyptAir, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines.[1]

Two weeks after the crash, the NTSB proposed declaring the crash a criminal event and handing the investigation over to the FBI. Egyptian government officials protested, and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, traveled to Washington to join the investigation.[10]

Hamdi Hanafi Taha defection

In February 2000, EgyptAir 767 captain Hamdi Hanafi Taha sought political asylum in London after landing his aircraft there. In his statement to British authorities, he claimed to have knowledge of the circumstances behind the crash of Flight 990. He is reported to have said that he wanted to "stop all lies about the disaster," and to put much of the blame on EgyptAir management.[10]

Reaction was swift, with the NTSB and FBI sending officials to interview Taha, and Osama El-Baz, an advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying, "This pilot can't know anything about the plane, the chances that he has any information [about the crash of Flight 990] are very slim."[11] EgyptAir officials also immediately dismissed Taha's claim.[12] Taha's information was reportedly of little use to the investigators, and his application for asylum was turned down.[10]

Investigation conclusions

NTSB

The NTSB's final report was issued on 21 March 2002,[4] after a two-year investigation.[13] Their conclusion was:[3]

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the EgyptAir flight 990 accident is the airplane's departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the relief first officer's flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer's actions was not determined.

ECAA

The ECAA's final report, based largely on the NTSB's, came to different conclusions:[14]

1. The Relief First Officer (RFO) did not deliberately dive the airplane into the ocean. Nowhere in the 1,665 pages of the NTSB’s docket or in the 18 months of investigative effort is there any evidence to support the so called “deliberate act theory.” In fact, the record contains specific evidence refuting such a theory, including an expert evaluation by Dr. Adel Fouad, a highly experienced psychiatrist.

2. There is evidence pointing to a mechanical defect in the elevator control system of the accident. The best evidence of this is the shearing of certain rivets in two of the right elevator bellcranks and the shearing of an internal pin in a power control actuator (PCA) that was attached to the right elevator. Although this evidence, combined with certain data from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), points to a mechanical cause for the accident, reaching a definitive conclusion at this point is not possible because of the complexity of the elevator system, the lack of reliable data from Boeing, and the limitations of the simulation and ground tests conducted after the accident. Additional evidence of relevant Boeing 767 elevator malfunctions in incidents involving Aero Mexico (February 2000), Gulf Air, and American Airlines (March, 2001). There were also two incidents on a United Airlines airplane in 1994 and 1996.

3. Investigators cannot rule out the possibility that the RFO may have taken emergency action to avoid a collision with an unknown object. Although plausible, this theory cannot be tested because the United States has refused to release certain radar calibration and test data that are necessary to evaluate various unidentified radar returns in the vicinity of Flight 990.

Investigation criticism

The investigation and its results drew criticism from the Egyptian Government, which advanced several alternative theories about mechanical malfunction of the aircraft. In Western countries, the Egyptian rejection of the NTSB report was attributed to a strong Egyptian cultural aversion to suicide. The theories proposed by Egyptian authorities were tested by the NTSB, and none were found to match the facts. For example, an elevator assembly hardover (in which the elevator in a fully extended position sticks because the hinge catches on the tail frame) proposed by the Egyptians was discounted, because the flight recorder data showed the elevator was in a "split condition." In this state, one side of the elevator is up and the other down; on the 767, this condition is only possible through flight control input (e.g., one yoke is pushed forward, the other pulled backward).

Another theory proposes that the aircraft was passing through a military zone, without proper co-ordination, and suffered from electromagnetic interference.[15]

However, in response to the claim of NTSB unprofessionalism by the Egyptian Civilian Authority, Bernard Loeb, former NTSB director of aviation safety, said "What was unprofessional was the insistence by the Egyptians, in the face of irrefutable evidence, to anyone who knows anything about investigating airplane accidents and who knows anything about aerodynamics and airplanes, was the fact that this airplane was intentionally flown into the ocean. No scenario that the Egyptians came up with, or that we came up with, in which there were some sort of mechanical failure in the elevator control system, would either match the flight profile or was a situation in which the airplane was not recoverable."[16]

Media coverage

While the official investigation was proceeding, speculation about the crash ran rampant in both the Western media and the Egyptian press.

Western media speculation

Long before the NTSB had issued its final report, Western media began to speculate about the meaning of the taped cockpit conversations and about possible motives (including suicide and terrorism) behind Al-Batouti's actions on the flight. The speculation, in part, was based on leaks from an unnamed federal law enforcement official that the crew member in the co-pilot's seat was recorded as saying, "I made my decision now. I put my faith in God's hands."[6]

During a press conference held on 19 November 1999, the NTSB's Jim Hall denounced such speculation and said that it had "done a disservice to the long-standing friendship between the people of the United States of America and Egypt."[17][18]

On 20 November 1999, the Associated Press quoted senior American officials as saying that the quote was not in fact on the tape.[17] It is believed that the speculation arose from a mistranslation of an Egyptian Arabic phrase (Tawkalt ala Allah) meaning "I rely on God."[6]

London's Sunday Times, quoting unnamed sources, speculated that Al-Batouti had been "traumatized by war," and was depressed because many members of his fighter squadron in the 1973 war had been killed.[19]

Egyptian media reaction and speculation

The Egyptian media reacted in outrage to the speculations in the Western press. The state-owned Al Ahram Al Misai called Al-Batouti a "martyr," and the Islamist Al Shaab covered the story under a headline that stated, "America's goal is to hide the truth by blaming the EgyptAir pilot."[17]

At least two Egyptian newspapers, Al Gomhuria and Al-Musawar, offered theories that the aircraft was accidentally shot down by the U.S.[17] Other theories were advanced by the Egyptian press as well, including the Islamist Al Shaab, which speculated that a Mossad/CIA conspiracy was to blame (since, supposedly, EgyptAir and El Al crews stay at the same hotel in New York). Al Shaab also accused U.S. officials of secretly recovering the FDR, reprogramming it, and throwing it back into the water to be publicly recovered.[17]

Unifying all the Egyptian press was a stridently held belief that it "is inconceivable that a pilot would kill himself by crashing a jet with 217 people aboard. 'It is not possible that anyone who would commit suicide would also kill so many innocent people alongside him,' said Ehab William, a surgeon at Cairo's Anglo-American Hospital," reported the Cairo Times.[17]

The Egyptian media also reacted against Western speculation of terrorist connections. The Cairo Times reported, "The deceased pilot's nephew, Walid Al Batouti, has lashed out in particular against speculation that his uncle could have been a religious extremist. 'He loved the United States,' the nephew said. 'If you wanted to go shopping in New York, he was the man to speak to, because he knew all the stores.' The family adopted Donald Duck (Batout in Arabic, from batt, or duck) as its emblem, and toy Donalds are scattered throughout the nephew's and the uncle's houses."[17]

Documentaries

The story of the flight has been featured in the Discovery Channel Canada/National Geographic television show Mayday (Air Crash Investigation, Air Emergency). In the show, the flight is dramatized on the basis of ATC tapes as well as the CVR recordings. In interviews conducted for the program, Al-Batouti's family members continue to vehemently dispute the suicide/deliberate crash theories and dismiss them as biased. Nevertheless, the program implies he crashed the plane for personal reasons: he had been severely reprimanded by his boss for sexual harassment, and this boss was actually on the plane.

The dramatization of the crash also depicts Al-Batouti forcing the plane down with the pilot attempting to pull the plane up. Despite this, upon conclusion the program stresses the official NTSB conclusion, which makes no mention of a suicide mission or a deliberate crash. Rather, it simply states that the crash was a direct result of actions made by the co-pilot.[6]

Al Jazeera, the Arabic language channel, produced a documentary about the flight that was transmitted in March 2000. The documentary looked at the official NTSB theory and speculations surrounding it. In the documentary, the NTSB data was used with a flight simulator of the same plane model to try to simulate the circumstances of the crash.

Flight number

Since the crash, the flight number for New York to Cairo has been changed from 990 to 986. The route is flown by a Boeing 777.

See also


References

  1. ^ a b c "EgyptAir Flight 990". NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/events/ea990/default.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  2. ^ "GROUP CHAIRMAN’S FACTUAL REPORT (EX2A)" (PDF). NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/events/ea990/docket/Ex_2A.pdf. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  3. ^ a b c "Aircraft Accident Brief". NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2002/aab0201.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  4. ^ a b "NTSB RELEASES EGYPTAIR FLIGHT 990 FINAL REPORT". NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/Pressrel/2002/020321.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  5. ^ "Passenger list for EgyptAir Flight 990." St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved on December 24, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Mayday, Season 3, episode 8 (Death and Denial, also simply called EgyptAir 990)
  7. ^ "Search for air crash survivors abandoned". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/egyptair/article/0,2763,196608,00.html. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "GROUP CHAIRMAN’S FACTUAL REPORT (EX3A)" (PDF). NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/events/ea990/docket/Ex_3A.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-02. 
  9. ^ "The final ,fatal flight of EgyptAir 990". United States Coast Guard. http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/cb/jan00/990.html. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Wings and a Prayer". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/egyptair/article/0,2763,218460,00.html. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  11. ^ "Rough ride for EgyptAir". Al-Ahram. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/468/eg9.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  12. ^ "EgyptAir denies pilot can explain crash". BBC News. 2000-02-06. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/631789.stm. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  13. ^ "Chairman Marion Blakey's statement regarding the release of the final report". NTSB. http://www.ntsb.gov/Speeches/blakey/mcb020321.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  14. ^ "Report of Investigation of Accident — EgyptAir Flight 990" (PDF). Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority. http://www.ntsb.gov/events/ea990/docket/ecaa_report.pdf. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  15. ^ "The Fall of EgyptAir 990". The New York Review of Books. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/13830. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  16. ^ Bernard Loeb. (2006). Air Emergency: "Egypt Air 990 (Death and Denial)". [TV-Series]. National Geographic Channel. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g "Suicide speculation under fire", Cairo Times, archived at archive.org, accessed 29 April 2007
  18. ^ "The Crash of EgyptAir 990". The Atlantic Monthly. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200111/langewiesche. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  19. ^ "Batouty clan stands united", Cairo Times, archived at archive.org, accessed 29 April 2007

External links

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Coordinates: 40°20′51″N 69°45′24″W / 40.3475°N 69.75667°W / 40.3475; -69.75667








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