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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 10:38 GMT


Grim task ahead for searchers

The US Coast Guard: Searching since the plane went missing

By the BBC's Jane Hughes in New York

It was a grim but familiar task for US Coast Guard workers in New York: the painstaking search for any signs of an airliner that had vanished off radar screens after taking off from John F Kennedy Airport.

In circumstances eerily similar to the crash of TWA flight 800 in 1996 and Swiss Air Flight 111 a year ago, EgyptAir Flight 990 disappeared from radar screens about 60 miles from Nantucket island, off Massachusetts.

At first light, every available vessel and aircraft were mobilised and within hours rescue workers had discovered a wide area of debris, including air craft seats and life rafts.

The discovery seemed to confirm what everyone had feared. The aircraft had crashed into the ocean.

As sombre-faced officials at New York's John F Kennedy Airport were given the latest details of the disappearance, relatives of the passengers began arriving at a crisis centre set up at the nearby Ramada Hotel to help them.

Grief counsellors were on hand, as well as the airport's chaplain and rabbi.

Hotline jammed

A telephone hotline set up to give relatives and friends as much information as possible was immediately jammed with calls, many of them from people unconnected with the passengers on the apparently doomed flight.

New York's Governor George Pataki issued a statement extending the thoughts and prayers of all New Yorkers to the families and friends of those aboard the airliner.

"They need to know they are not alone," he said. "This terrible tragedy touches all of us."

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates air accidents in the US, rapidly dispatched a team to work with the US Coast Guard and the FBI.

FBI officials said they could not rule out the possibility that the plane had been downed by a terrorist act, though they said at this stage there is no sign of any criminal activity.

Officials will interview all airport workers who had contact with the plane either in New York or in Los Angeles where the flight originated.

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