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SF Gate: Co-pilot caused Egyptair crash, U.S. board rules/Report conclusion a surprise given delicate political situation

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The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Friday, March 15, 2002 (SF Chronicle)
Co-pilot caused Egyptair crash, U.S. board rules/Report conclusion a surpri=
se given delicate political situation
Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer

   The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that a co-pilot w=
solely responsible for the crash of an Egyptair jet off the Rhode Island
coast in 1999, a knowledgeable government source said last night.
   The source said the safety board will probably issue its final report on
Flight 990 within a week.
   The report ends an investigation that long ago suggested that co-pilot
Gamil el-Batouty suddenly and inexplicably plunged the Boeing 767 airplane
into the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles south of Nantucket, killing all
217 people aboard, including 100 Americans. The plane had just taken off
from New York, bound for Cairo.
   The Egyptian government, which owns the airline, has said its own
investigation showed mechanical failure caused the Oct. 31, 1999, crash.
   After news of the safety board report became public yesterday, relatives
of some of the American victims said the report's conclusion was not
   "Everybody knew from the beginning that that was the reason," Gail
Seidman, of Vallejo, said yesterday. Her mother, Tobey Seidman, 71, was
killed in the crash.
   "All other factors for causing the crash had been pretty much eliminated=
said Randy Garrell of Costa Mesa, whose mother-in-law, Beverly Grant, 81,
was one of the crash victims. "There was no evidence of an explosive
device. So there really was no other option. The big question is: Why did
he do this? I don't think we're ever going to know for sure."
   In Washington, safety board officials declined to comment on the report,
first revealed on the Web site of Aviation Daily.
   Perhaps the biggest surprise yesterday was that the government had reach=
a conclusion about Egyptair 990. Last year, crash investigators said the
final safety board report was delayed because of the delicate relationship
between Egypt and the United States.
   "Egypt is an important player in our intentional effort to fight
terrorism, " Atlantic Monthly correspondent William Langewiesche, who
wrote a long piece on the crash for his magazine, told The Chronicle late
last year. "This is an accident with no importance to aviation safety
because there was nothing wrong with the airplane."
   Yesterday, Langewiesche said that while the report "will say what we have
all known for two years," the significant aspect of its release is that
the "NTSB is maintaining its independence from the political process. The
sentiment in the U.S. government had been that we should not be ruffling
Egyptian feathers."
   The reason the crash and its aftermath did ruffle Egyptian feathers is
because of how quickly U.S. investigators blamed el-Batouty for the crash.
   The plane's cockpit voice recorder showed that as the big jet was heading
toward the water in a near-vertical dive, Captain Ahmed al-Habashy, who
had been outside the cockpit for a moment, rushed in to find el-Batouty at
the controls. The captain apparently grabbed his own controls and shouted
"pull with me, pull with me," trying to get the plane out of its dive. But
investigators later determined that el-Batouty was pushing his controls in
the opposite direction.
   In the final 120 seconds of Egyptair 990's brief flight, el-Batouty calm=
repeated the phrase, "I rely on God" 11 times.
   FBI agents found that 59-year-old el-Batouty had been the subject of many
sexual harassment complaints from women guests and employees of the
Pennsylvania Hotel in New York, where Egyptair flight crews stayed between
   A former EgyptAir captain, Hanofy Taha Mahmoud Hamdy, told the Los Angel=
Times the crash was an act of revenge against an EgyptAir executive, Hatem
Rushdy. Rushdy was a passenger on the doomed flight who had reprimanded
el- Batouty for sexual misconduct and told him he would not be allowed to
fly the U.S. route again, the Times reported.

   E-mail Michael Taylor at mtaylor@sfchronicle.com.=20
Copyright 2002 SF Chronicle

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