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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 17:47 GMT
EgyptAir co-pilot 'crashed plane'
Flight 990 data recorder
The co-pilot said he was relying on God
United States safety officials have for the first time publicly blamed the October 1999 EgyptAir crash on the plane's co-pilot.

We call upon President George W Bush to move beyond his predecessor's failure of leadership in this matter, and ensure that a full criminal investigation takes place

Jim Brokaw
Relative of victims
The National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the incident said there was no evidence of mechanical problems on the Boeing 767, which plunged into the sea off the US island of Nantucket, killing all 217 people on board.

But Egypt immediately challenged the report, saying US officials had failed to consider evidence supporting multiple failures in the elevator control system, which controls the movement of the aircraft's nose.

"We believe we owe it to the families of those aboard and to the flying public to find out what caused this tragic accident," said Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador in Washington.

Cairo has consistently rejected the theory that co-pilot Gameel el-Batouty deliberately crashed the plane.

The investigation has been extremely controversial in Egypt, with officials and public opinion alike adamant that pilot suicide could not have been to blame.

No explanation

The NTSB said el-Batouty was alone in the cockpit when EgyptAir Flight 990 started its plunge, and made no attempt to stop it.

Co-pilot Gamil al-Batouty
El-Batouty's family denied he was suicidal
It did not offer any explanation for the co-pilot's actions.

But it said Mr el-Batouty had calmly repeated the phrase "I rely on God" for more than a minute.

This was "not consistent with the reaction that would be expected from a pilot who is encountering an unexpected or uncommanded flight condition", the report said.

It concluded that the plane's pilot was in no way to blame. He had tried to stop the plane from diving.

El-Batouty's family has denied that he was trying to commit suicide and branded an earlier draft report "media propaganda".

"It is sponsored by those who are trying to cover up whatever happened to this plane," Walid el-Batouty, nephew of the dead co-pilot and spokesman for families of the Egyptian victims, said last year.

But a former EgyptAir captain suggested a possible motive other than suicide.

The Los Angeles Times last week quoted Hanofy Taha Mahmoud Hamdy as saying that the crash was an act of revenge against an EgyptAir executive who was on the flight and had reprimanded el-Batouty for sexual misconduct.

'Unavoidable conclusion'

The president of the association of families of crash victims, meanwhile, called for a full criminal investigation.

Black ribbon on lapel
There were no survivors from the crash
"American families regret that Egypt continues to resist this unavoidable conclusion, even after the events of 11 September," said Jim Brokaw, who lost his father and stepmother.

"We call upon President George W Bush to move beyond his predecessor's failure of leadership in this matter..."

EgyptAir last year called on investigators to consider the possibility of an inherent flaw in design or maintenance procedures of the Boeing 767 flight control system.

But US investigators have discounted problems with the elevator or any other part of the plane.

"There was no evidence of any airplane system malfunction, conflicting air traffic or other event that would have prompted these actions," the report said.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The inquiry... remains as controversial as ever"

Coverage of the crash
See also:

20 Apr 01 | Middle East
Egypt rejects air crash report
19 Apr 01 | Middle East
EgyptAir plea over crash report
26 Jan 01 | Middle East
EgyptAir abandons liability battle
17 Aug 00 | Americas
EgyptAir blames plane for disaster
18 Nov 99 | Americas
EgyptAir legal action filed
11 Nov 99 | Americas
Black box yields first clues
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