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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT

World: Americas

EgyptAir pilots 'talked like pals'

The chief investigator briefs the press

No conclusions have been officially drawn from examination of EgyptAir Flight 990's voice recorder, but reports say that pilot suicide, fighting in the cockpit, or an attempted hijacking are unlikely to have caused the airliner's plunge into the Atlantic.

The pilots' conversation is in Arabic, and they reportedly "talked like pals" as they attempted to repair a problem in the cockpit after an alarm sounded.

The BBC's Richard Lister: "The investigators will enhance and analyse every sound on the tape"

All 217 people on board the plane died when it crashed on 31 October.
The loss of flight 990
Jim Hall, chairman of the US National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), has said that no conclusions could yet be drawn from an initial examination of the cockpit voice recorder.

Mr Hall said the tape, recovered from the seabed on Saturday, was in "good condition" and contained about 31.5 minutes of data, but that "no conclusions could be drawn from their initial reviews".

[ image: 'Puzzling questions' raised by the first black box recorder]
'Puzzling questions' raised by the first black box recorder
The Washington Post on Monday is quoting sources close to the investigation as saying that although it is still too early to rule out almost any cause, the initial reading of the tape "does not indicate that the pilots fought with each other, that one or both of them attempted to commit suicide, or that someone entered the cockpit and caused the crash."

The sources gave no details of when the pilots knew they were in trouble or what they said during the dive.

The flight's recorder tape is at the National Transportation Safety Board headquarters in Washington after being retrieved by the US Navy from the plane's wreckage, about 100km off the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.

Investigators from the NTSB as well as representatives from Egypt, the FBI, the US Federal Aviation Authority, Boeing Aircraft and Pratt and Whitney Engines will begin a comprehensive review of the tape on Monday.

One of their key tasks will be to correlate the timings between the flight recorder, retrieved last Tuesday, and the cockpit voice recorder.

Arabic interpreters needed

[ image: The US Grapple, top, and salvage ship Carolyn Chouest]
The US Grapple, top, and salvage ship Carolyn Chouest
Mr Hall of the NTSB has asked EgyptAir to supply someone who knew the pilots to review the tape, "not just to translate the Arabic but to interpret the nuances of tone, timbre and tension in the crew's voices."

Mr Hall said: "We're certainly hopeful that within the next two or three days we'll be able to answer a lot of the puzzling questions that information on the flight data recorder has raised in our minds."

Crash investigators hope the recorded cockpit conversations will reveal whether the plane's automatic pilot and engines were deliberately turned off.

Information gleaned from the flight data recorder indicates both engines cut off eight seconds after the autopilot disconnected.

But Boeing says the engines could only be turned off intentionally.

Suggestions of sabotage

In Cairo the former head of EgyptAir's committee in charge of accident investigation suggested the flight had been sabotaged.

"I think that someone managed to place something near the cockpit, which has a toilet behind it" Essam Ahmed told Reuters news agency.

No convincing reason has emerged yet as to why any of the crew on the plane would want to sabotage it.

FBI agents are understood to be waiting to see whether inquiries into the background of the crew "throw up any evidence of emotional or financial problems."

The chairman of EgyptAir, Mohammed Fahim Rayan, said all crew members underwent regular physical and psychological tests. Recent check-ups showed both the pilot and co-pilot to be in good health.

A group of NTSB investigators will go to Boeing headquarters in Seattle on Tuesday with the information already gathered from the flight data recorder. They plan to re-enact Flight 990's final moments by entering the information into a flight simulator.

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