- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded an EgyptAir co-pilot caused a deadly crash off the coast of Massachusetts in October 1999 by cutting power to the plane's engines and sending it into the Atlantic Ocean.

"There was no evidence of any airplane-system malfunction, conflicting air traffic, or other event that would have prompted these actions," the board said in a lengthy report released yesterday on the crash of the Los Angeles-to-Cairo flight, which killed 217 persons.

The findings were not a surprise, as U.S. investigators have believed all along that Gameel Batouty took the Boeing 767 down shortly after it took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport following a stopover.

The report did not offer an explanation for why the veteran aviator, who underwent a successful professional evaluation just a few months before the crash, intentionally flew the plane into the sea. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the crash may have been caused by Mr. Batouty's desire for revenge against an EgyptAir executive on board. The executive had purportedly reprimanded him for sexual misconduct that had embarrassed the company.

In August 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released FBI documents from 10 witnesses who said Mr. Batouty exposed himself to schoolgirls and was engaged in other sexual misconduct at a New York hotel in the days before the crash indicating that he may have suffered from possible psychological problems. Capt. Shaker Kelada, vice president for safety for EgyptAir, immediately dismissed those accusations against Mr. Batouty, described as the "relief First Officer," in the NTSB report as being "largely unsubstantiated."

Egyptian authorities have consistently challenged U.S. assertions that Mr. Batouty, who was at the controls of Flight 990 when it went into a steep dive before crashing into the ocean 60 miles south of Nantucket, intentionally flew the jetliner into the sea.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy declined to comment on the NTSB's final report, noting that Egypt's response is contained in the board's report. In its response, the Egyptian government said the NTSB's conclusion "that the probable cause of the accident is the deliberate action of the relief First Officer is not supported by any evidence of intent or motive that would explain the First Officer's alleged conduct."

Egyptian officials cite what they describe as "sheared or deformed bellcrank rivets" on EgyptAir 990 and other Boeing 767 aircraft. They maintain these abnormal rivets represent "direct evidence of a potential defect in the airplane's elevator [control] system," which they say could be related to Flight 990's nose-down movement.

However, the NTSB denies the claims of Egyptian officials. "There was no evidence of any failure condition within the elevator system of the accident airplane that would have caused or contributed to the initial pitchover or prevented a successful recovery," the report said, adding:

"The accident airplane's movements during the initial part of the accident sequence were the result of the relief First Officer's manipulation of the controls. … the relief First Officer was alone in the cockpit when he manually disconnected the autopilot and moved the throttle levels from cruise to idle … the nature and degree of the subsequent nose-down elevator movements were not consistent with those that might have resulted from a mechanical failure but could be explained by pilot input."

Yesterday, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) said it would formally appeal for reconsideration of the NTSB's finding of probable cause of the crash. ECAA said the U.S. probe was "flawed from the outset, when NTSB investigators rushed to judgment in reaching conclusions even before the aircraft wreckage was retrieved from the ocean floor."

The NTSB report also said Mr. Batouty repeated the phrase, "I believe in God," in a calm voice for nearly 90 seconds before the plane went down. This, the report said, is "not consistent with the reaction that would be expected from a pilot who is encountering an unexpected or uncommanded flight condition."

Also, the report said, "nose-up elevator movements began only" after the plane's command captain, who had gone to the restroom, returned to the cockpit. The captain, obviously alarmed by what he found upon his return, "commanded nose-up elevator movements," while the "relief first operator continued to command nose-down," according to the report.

"The captain's actions were consistent with an attempt to recover the accident airplane, and the relief First Officer's were not," the NTSB report concluded.


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