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The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports
The investigation has been extremely sensitive
 real 28k

The BBC's Frank Gardner in Cairo
"Mr Taha's request is baffling those he has left behind"
 real 28k

Sunday, 6 February, 2000, 22:20 GMT
EgyptAir denies pilot can explain crash

Egyptair plain The pilot sought asylum shortly after landing


EgyptAir has denied that a pilot who has sought asylum in the UK has information that could help explain why one of its jets crashed off the east coast of the US last year.

The EgyptAir pilot, Hamdi Hanafi Taha, 49, made the claim in a message to air traffic controllers before his scheduled passenger flight from Cairo touched down at London's Heathrow airport on Friday.

UK authorities are now considering his application for political asylum.

Hamdi Hanafi Taha Hamdi Hanafi Taha: His employers deny he has special information
But EgyptAir has dismissed Mr Taha's claim to have special knowledge about the crash of Flight 990 in which 217 people died.

The airline said he had no connection with the flight and knew nothing about the circumstances of its loss.

EgyptAir vice president for operations, Hassan Musharafa, said Mr Taha was "one of 500 EgyptAir pilots and had no access to information about the crash".

BBC Correspondent Frank Gardner in Cairo says Egyptians are wondering what could have prompted Mr Taha to jeopardize his job, his livelihood and his family, who have not gone with him.

EgyptAir has said the Boeing 767 pilot and his family will lose out on a substantial pension if he does not return to work within a week.

They are also saying that Mr Taha had a tainted professional record and that he had twice been investigated for breaking company rules.

'Confusion' and 'concern'

An Egyptian embassy spokesman in London also said there was much confusion over why the pilot had made the asylum request and why, if he did have information about the crash, he had not told anyone in his home country.

"There are a lot of places within the Egyptian authority that he could have gone to give information. It is open to anyone," he said.

He added: "Nobody knows exactly what his motives are for taking this action."

Mr Taha's family have also expressed concern.

The pilot's wife, Hoda Abdel-Rahman Youssef, has been quoted as saying that her husband had recently been extremely tense, but she gave no further explanation.

One of Mr Taha's sons, 15-year-old Muhammad Hamdi, said: "We were very surprised when he left."

The couple have been married for 19 years and have six children.

The BBC's correspondent in Cairo says the family home is now under guard.

A UK Home Office spokesman confirmed that an Egyptian national "has sought entry to the UK" at Heathrow airport, without specifying the reasons for his request.

"His application is currently being considered by the immigration service," the spokesman said.

Crash investigation

The US National Transportation and Safety Board is leading the investigation into the cause of the Egyptian Airbus crash, which killed everyone on board.

Many families were left to mourn relatives lost in the crash Relatives' grief: The cause of the crash is still unknown
The plane plunged into the ocean 40 minutes into an 11-hour flight from New York to Cairo.

No official findings have yet been released.

Some US sources have suggested that the airliner might have been brought down deliberately by one of the co-pilots.

Egyptian officials have angrily dismissed that possibility, saying they believe that a problem in the plane's tail section was responsible for the crash.

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See also:
23 Jan 00 |  Americas
EgyptAir 'to offer' insurance payouts
21 Jan 00 |  Americas
EgyptAir clues point to deliberate crash
08 Dec 99 |  Americas
Egyptian pilots reject suicide theory

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