Defector EgyptAir pilot says he has information on October crash
From staff and wire reports
CAIRO, Egypt -- The EgyptAir pilot claiming to possess information about the fatal crash of one of the airline's planes last year had faced disciplinary proceedings in the past, an airline official said on Saturday.
Hamdi Hanafi Taha, 49, reportedly asked for political asylum in the United Kingdom after flying a scheduled EgyptAir flight to London from Cairo Friday. The aircraft flown by him returned to Cairo early Saturday, piloted by reserve pilot Mohammed Salama.
The British Aviation Authority confirmed an Egyptian pilot had disembarked at London Heathrow airport.
The official Middle East News Agency quoted EgyptAir Chairman Mohammed Fahim Rayan as saying Taha had defected. Rayan reportedly said that Taha claimed to have information about EgyptAir's Flight 990 crash off the New England coast of the United States on October 31. All 217 people flying from New York to Cairo were killed when the plane fell into waters off Nantucket, Massachusetts.
But Rayan added that Taha "does not have any connection to or knowledge about the cause of the plane crash."
EgyptAir's chief of operations, Hassan Misharfa, was quoted Saturday as saying that Taha had faced disciplinary proceedings several times in the past.
Misharfa, who also took part in the crash investigation, told the official newspaper Al-Ahram that Taha could not have had information about the crash.
Taha's conflicts with EgyptAir officials were corroborated by Salama. "His relationship with his colleagues was good, but he had some problems with the (airline) administration," Salama said.
Taha's wife, Hoda Abdel-Rahman Youssef, told The Associated Press her husband had been distressed by the EgyptAir crash.
"He was very sad after the plane crash. He didn't tell me anything about the reason behind its plunge," she said. Youssef said her husband had suffered anxiety recently, but was normal when he left for work Friday morning.
"I didn't notice any change in him. He always called on his arrival, but this time he didn't and that's why I was worried about him until I heard the broadcast news saying he's seeking asylum," Youssef said. The couple have been married 19 years and have six children.
Salama said the crew had seen Taha being escorted away by police in London. A spokesman in London for the Home Office said an Egyptian national "has sought entry into the U.K. and his application is being considered by the immigration services." He refused to elaborate.
American and Egyptian investigators have yet to release any official findings on the cause of the crash. Some U.S. sources have said the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board is working on the theory the plane was brought down deliberately by a co-pilot who died in the crash.
Egyptian officials have dismissed that possibility, saying they believe an as-yet unexplained problem in the plane's tail section caused the crash. Both the Egyptian government and public have condemned speculation that an Egyptian pilot may have committed suicide and killed innocent people in the downing of Flight 990.
If Taha has information contradicting Egypt's stand on the crash, he may fear repercussions in a country where human rights activists have been jailed for speech considered harmful to the national interest.
Sources: EgyptAir voice recorder doesn't change theory of deliberate crash
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