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US

Experts focus crash probe on EgyptAir 990's last moments

Searchers comb Atlantic waters overnight

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 2:19 p.m. EDT (1819 GMT)


In this story:

129 Americans believed on plane

No indication of foul play

Salvage ship headed for crash scene

Pilot 'very experienced'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



NANTUCKET, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Coast Guard ships early Monday combed the cold, dark waters south of Nantucket Island for wreckage and possible survivors from EgyptAir Flight 990 as officials tried to piece together its last, terrifying moments.

  EgyptAir Hotlines
  EgyptAir has set up the following numbers for families and friends of those on the flight to get information

In the U.S.:
(800) 243-1094

Outside the U.S.:
(202) 245-2244
(202) 244-1460
(202) 418-3690
 
  AUDIO

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says he'll do everything he can for the families of the people on the plane

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 VIDEO
CNN's Jim Clancy reports on the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990
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Robert Kelly, aviation director of New York and New Jersey Port Authority, on wreckage location and investigation
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Dr. Samir El Shanawany of EgyptAir describes the aircraft's route and EgyptAir's initial response
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FBI Assistant Director Lewis Schiliro describes FBI presence in investigation
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Robert Boyle, Port Authority executive director, reads a statement from New York Gov. Pataki
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Message Board: Plane crashes

 

The plane -- a Boeing 767-300ER carrying 217 passengers and crew -- disappeared from radar early Sunday morning off Nantucket. The search and rescue operation is centered on 36 square miles of ocean about 60 miles (96 km) southeast of the island.

Work was expected to intensify once daylight returned Monday. The water at the crash site is up to 270 feet deep.

A command center for the massive investigation and recovery effort was being set up in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Officials were reviewing radar tapes tracking a two-minute plunge by the stricken airliner.

After climbing to 33,000 feet, the plane fell "at a rapid rate of descent" just three minutes after its last, routine radio contact, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall said. From that altitude, the jetliner dropped nearly 14,000 feet in only 36 seconds.

During that catastrophic plummet, the plane had enough electrical power to broadcast its fast-falling altitude to flight controllers, indicating to some aviation experts that it did not immediately break up. Then, somehow, the plane's descent slowed and after about 90 more seconds it crashed into the ocean.

129 Americans believed on plane

Passengers included a number of Egyptian Army officers and a group of 54 American tourists, mostly from Colorado, Arizona and the Pacific Northwest. The tourists were scheduled for a 14-day visit to Cairo and cruise of the Upper Nile on a tour arranged by Grand Circle Travel, a Boston-based tour group for people over age 50.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered condolences Monday to the families of the doomed plane's passengers and crew.

"When I heard about it, I was shocked. It was a big tragedy for us," he said. "But this is our fate. It could happen anywhere in the world."

He declined to speculate on the cause of the crash.

"I cannot say anything about the reason, waiting for the investigation to come to an end," Mubarak said.

Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told CNN that a total of 129 of the passengers were from the United States.

At the request of the Egyptian government, Hall said, his organization would lead the investigation into the cause of the disaster, even though the crash happened in international waters.

The Egyptian military personnel were army officers who had been in the United States on a training mission, according to the Egyptian Embassy. It was unclear how many officers were on the flight.

Egyptian officials said there were 62 Egyptians, two Sudanese, three Syrians and one Chilean among the official passengers.

Three non-working EgyptAir employees got on in New York, the airline said, and were not initially counted as passengers or crew. Another non-ticketed worker, a contract employee, flew from Los Angeles to New York and got off before the flight began its final fatal leg.

That man was identified as Edward McLaughlin -- who, as vice president of an organization called FEI Behavioral Health, was helping to console families of the victims who stayed on the plane.

No indication of foul play

Though cause of the crash was not known, U.S. officials from President Clinton to the State Department and FBI all were quick to emphasize there was no indication of foul play. The so-called "black box" flight recorders had not been found.

In Seattle, Boeing officials said the EgyptAir jet rolled off its assembly lines 10 years ago -- immediately before another 767-300ER, an Austrian Lauda Air jet that crashed in the jungles of Thailand in 1991. A Boeing spokeswoman cautioned there was no evidence yet to indicate the two crashes were related.

The 767 has been used by commercial airlines since 1982. Boeing said the 10-year-old aircraft had logged 31,000 flight hours.

Salvage ship headed for crash scene

Late Sunday, the Norfolk-based USS Grapple, which participated in the wreckage retrieval of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Swissair Flight 111 last year, headed for the debris field. Equipped with high-tech, side-scan sonars and heavy equipment to haul debris from under the ocean, the Grapple's mission is recovery and salvage of the larger portions of the craft.

Searchers found clothing, life rafts and passports in their extensive search Sunday, and they recovered the body of one victim, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard dispatched 11 aircraft and six ships in its search for victims and more debris. The search was scaled back late in the day, but Coast Guard ships continued to comb the waters overnight.

Debris from the crash is to be taken to an Air National Guard base at Quonset Point, where it will be housed and analyzed.

Pilot 'very experienced'

EgyptAir scheduled a special flight from Cairo to the United States for relatives of people on the plane.

Flight 990's takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy airport at 1:19 a.m. EST (0619 GMT) was more than two hours behind schedule, largely due to its late arrival from Los Angeles where, among other things, a tire had to be changed, officials in New York said.

Weather apparently was not a factor: The original flight from Cairo was diverted from JFK to the Newark, New Jersey, airport on the way to Los Angeles because of fog, the FAA said -- the cause of all subsequent delays.

EgyptAir identified the pilot as Hatem Roushdi, who had more than 10,000 hours of flight experience. Colleagues described him as a "very experienced pilot." The airline said he had been in contact with his son, also an EgyptAir pilot, just hours before leaving.

EgyptAir Chairman Mohamed Fahim Rayan said there were three captains and two copilots on the plane, an unusually large number because of the length of the trip.

The airline has suffered four fatal crashes since 1971, the most recent 13 years ago, in June 1986. In the worst of those crashes, an EgyptAir 707 crashed into a textile mill during an approach to the Bangkok, Thailand, airport on Christmas Day, 1976, killing 43 passengers, nine crew members and 20 people on the ground.

Correspondents Charles Zewe, Susan Reed and Brent Sadler contributed to this report.



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