Egyptian colleagues, relatives and officials familiar with the EgyptAir Flight 990 investigation say they are mystified at suggestions from the United States that one of the crewmen may have deliberately crashed the airliner into the ocean.
Such an act would be inconsistent with the personalities, known backgrounds and religious beliefs of those involved, they say. And, they add, no motive has yet emerged here that would explain it.
U.S. officials were preparing to have the FBI take over the official probe into the Oct. 31 crash, which killed 217 passengers and crew off Nantucket Island, Mass., but held off after the Egyptian government objected to such a transfer. Moving the inquiry from the National Transportation Safety Board to the FBI would mean investigators suspect a crime was involved.
Information from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, synchronized by NTSB officials to create a picture of the airliner's last minutes aloft, indicated that one crewman apparently was alone in the cockpit and, just before the fatal dive, uttered what investigators have described as a prayer. As a result, attention has focused on the actions of the two captains and two co-captains on the New York-to-Cairo flight.
But the notion of a suicidal crew member, Egyptian officials and others here said, clashes with the temperaments of the crew members involved, all of them experienced pilots. Suicide is a serious violation of Islamic principles, they noted, one of the acts considered to forbid a believer entry into heaven.
In addition, the officials said, government background checks of the four pilots and other crew members turned up no connection to any Islamic or other extremist organization.
The brother of Capt. Ahmed Habashy told the local Rose al Youssef magazine that the veteran pilot was excited about the upcoming birth of a grandchild. Friends of co-pilot Adel Anwar noted that he was engrossed in plans to be married two days after the flight was scheduled to return from the United States. The other co-pilot, identified as Gameel Batouti, was within months of retirement, according to earlier reports. Those who knew the group, which also included Capt. Raouf Noureldin, said they cannot imagine any of them plunging a jet into the ocean.
"It is shocking," said one EgyptAir pilot, who knew those in command of the plane. "I could think of a thousand reasons for a plane crash, but not even one of them would be this."
EgyptAir also stood behind its crew members, saying that all underwent routine medical checkups that included tests for their mental and psychological state. All were fit to fly, said Abdel Azeem Sidky, a company representative.
A government representative said that in the wake of the accident, local authorities did background checks and gathered other information on all Egyptian nationals who were among the 217 people on board the flight. In addition to the crew members, they included more than 30 military officers who were returning from training courses and other business in the United States.
The results of that probe were passed along to U.S. authorities leading the investigation and helped underwrite the initial assessment discounting the possibility that the crash resulted from a terrorist act, sabotage or the gesture of an unbalanced person.
"The background of every passenger was checked and double-checked by Egyptian authorities . . . We are not an idle onlooker. There is a dialogue," said Nabil Osman, chairman of the Egyptian State Information Service.
The EgyptAir accident so far lacks what has been a key feature of much previous terrorism: a claim of responsibility. In the just over two weeks since the accident, none of the militant organizations that have waged attacks on tourists and Egyptian government officials has spoken about the crash.
Still, Osman acknowledged all possibilities remain on the table. Egypt has been the scene and target of significant terrorist acts--including the killing of tourists at a Pharaonic temple in 1997. And, despite its large security force, there have been lapses in the screening and assignment of key personnel: President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic radicals in the armed forces.
CAPTION: Capt. Gameel Batouti, left, was due to retire; co-pilot Adel Anwar was to be married on return to Egypt.
CAPTION: Pilot Ahmed Habashy, left, was awaiting the birth of a grandchild. Capt. Raouf Noureldin was also in the crew.