- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

MANAMA, Bahrain A Gulf Air Airbus A320 crashed into shallow Persian Gulf waters last night after circling and trying to land in Bahrain, killing all 143 persons aboard, including 36 children, officials said.
All bodies were recovered, and there were no survivors, Bahraini Civil Defense commander Brigadier Abdul-Rahman Bin Rashed Khalifa said on state-run television.
There was no immediate word on what caused the crash of the Cairo-to-Manama flight. Searchers recovered both flight-data recorders, but their contents were not immediately known.
U.S. Navy helicopters, destroyers and an oceangoing tug with a 10-ton crane joined the nighttime search-and-rescue effort three to four miles off the northern coast of Bahrain, which is headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.
Seventy bodies were recovered within the first hours after the 7:20 p.m. crash, said Mr. Khalifa.
An air-traffic controller at the Bahrain airport, reached by telephone, described watching the plane circle the runway twice in an attempt to land, then on the third attempt plunge into the sea and explode into flames.
The controller, who spoke on the condition his name not be used, saw no flames or sign of trouble before the crash and could not explain why the plane circled before crashing. He said the plane's crew did not report anything out of the ordinary.
"I could not believe my eyes," said Sobeih, 27, a resident of the nearby neighborhood of Al-Fodha, who saw the plane go down. "When I saw it heading toward the sea nose down, I screamed 'Oh, my God, this thing is going down.' "
Sobeih and Riyadh, 24, also an Al-Fodha resident, said the plane flew unusually low over their heads heading to the runway, but took a sharp turn toward the sea.
Both men, who would not give their full names, said the plane returned minutes later flying even lower, but headed straight to the sea, where it crashed. They said unusual noises came from the plane's engines, but they saw no flames.
"I was in a state of shock," said Riyadh.
Gulf Air said in a statement that 135 passengers and eight crew members were on board Flight GF072. A list released by Cairo airport passport control said at least 36 passengers were under the age of 18. They appeared to be traveling with different families, not in a single group. The list included 125 passengers and eight crew members, over half of them Egyptian and the rest of other Arab nationalities. The identities of the remaining 10 passengers were not immediately announced.
One passenger was believed to be an American. A State Department official in Washington said Bahraini officials had informed them that a boarding pass indicated that a U.S. diplomatic courier was aboard. The courier's name was not immediately released.
The crew included two Bahrainis and one each from Oman, the Philippines, Poland, India, Morocco and Egypt.
Weeping relatives of passengers pleaded with policemen who threw a security ring around the airport outside the capital, Manama. The airport controller later said the terminal was crowded with relatives of the passengers and crew and echoed with the sound of their cries.
Two helicopters hovered low over the site of the crash with their floodlights switched on. Bodies retrieved from the scene were being ferried in ambulances to the Salmaniya hospital, the country's largest, according to doctors.
About 100 U.S. military personnel in helicopters and small boats dispatched from the USS George Washington were helping in the search, said Lt. John Perkins, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet. The Washington usually patrols the Gulf, but was in port for shore leave.
The destroyers USS Oldendorf and USS Milius, both with home ports in San Diego, were helping the search, as well as two SH-60 Sea Hawk and one H-3 Sea King helicopters and the USNS Catawba, a tug used in recovering downed aircraft, the Pentagon said.
Helicopters were illuminating the scene and tracking the wreckage in the Gulf currents, Lt. Perkins said.

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