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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 05:42 GMT

World: Americas

EgyptAir legal action launched

Gameel Batouty and Adel Anwar: Who was at the controls?

A $50m wrongful death compensation claim - the first over the crash of EgyptAir flight 990 - has been filed in the United States.

Relatives of a Syrian passenger Ghassan Koujan, a married father of three children, filed the claim in New York.

The loss of flight 990
The action alleges that Egypt air breached its responsibility to provide the highest level of safety to passengers.

It also accused the manufacturers, Boeing, of negligence in the design, repair and maintenance of the plane.

The claim was filed in New York as EgyptAir executives flew to New York to discuss the investigation of the crash.

The BBC's Tom Carver reports: "What happened to Flight 990 is becoming more mysterious every day"
All 217 on board died when the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the Massachusetts coast.

Attorney Gerald H. Baker said he had filed the claim to put pressure on EgyptAir to quickly compensate the relatives of victims like Mr Koujan, a chef who lived in New Jersey.

EgyptAir has made no comment on the action Boeing spokesman Doug Webb said company policy was not to comment on lawsuits.

Suicide theory

EgyptAir executives want to check evidence gathered by the investigating team, which has prompted theories that the crash may have been caused by a suicidal member of the crew.

Click here to see a graphic showing the last seconds of the EgyptAir flight

Investigators have found that someone on the flight deck uttered a prayer shortly before the crash.

But it has not yet been decided whether the prayer was said before the cockpit was disengaged or after in response to the plane losing control.

Arabic linguists say the prayer, "tawakkalt ala Allah", is a common saying used routinely in daily life.

[ image: The prayer was heard on the plane's voice recorder]
The prayer was heard on the plane's voice recorder
US investigators said the prayer was spoken by someone sitting in the co-pilot's sit.

Some US media have reported that relief co-pilot Gameel Batouty, was sitting in the seat, rather than the on-duty co-pilot Adel Anwar.

EgyptAir officials want to listen more carefully to the tape from the cockpit recorder, amid different cultural interpretations of the significance of the Arabic words.

The tape indicates the pilot returned to the flight deck moments after the prayer was spoken and asked: "What is going on?".

Taking back the controls, the pilot reportedly ordered: "Pull with me, pull with me." Experts say such a command would be given to bring an aircraft out of a steep dive.

Investigators are trying to synchronise flight data information with the voice cockpit recorder to determine whether the religious statement came before or after the aircraft began its dive.

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