An article in Thursday's editions incorrectly reported that EgyptAir Flight 990 dived into the Atlantic Ocean with its engines at full power. The engines were under reduced power during the dive and were turned off near the bottom of it. (Published 11/27/99)
The crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 was not caused by a suicidal copilot, as U.S. investigators have suggested, but possibly by an explosion in the plane's tail, an Egyptian transportation ministry official said today.
Gen. Issam Ahmed, head of the country's flight training program, urged Egyptian investigators to look closely at what happened in the rear of the plane and not to let their U.S. counterparts impose the suicide scenario.
Ahmed was the first senior Egyptian official to say an explosion caused the Oct. 31 crash in which all 217 people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Massachusetts.
U.S. investigators discounted the theory of an explosion or mechanical difficulties early in their investigation.
Egyptians were outraged by a U.S. theory, offered by investigation sources, that copilot Gameel Batouti might have intentionally steered the plane into the water while he was alone at the controls.
Ahmed said Egyptian investigators in the United States should concentrate on the tail, which "carries the mystery of the accident." The flight data and voice recorders in the rear of the plane were severely damaged, he said.
"This confirms that the tail of the plane, where the two boxes are located, was subjected to an explosion at the height of 33,000 feet. It was either an internal or external explosion," Ahmed said.
Before heading the flight training program, Ahmed ran the transportation ministry's plane accidents committee. He is not involved in investigating the Flight 990 crash.
The ministry official also said the Egyptian experts should "be on the alert" about reports detailing the suicide theory. "Methods aimed at condemning EgyptAir and its pilots have been taken by preparing public opinion to accept what [the Americans] want to impose, which is the suicide theory," he said.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has said that data from the flight recorder shows the autopilot was disengaged at an altitude of 33,000 feet, and that the plane went into a steep dive with engines at full power. The engines were turned off at 21,000 feet, and the data stopped recording at 16,400 feet.
Ahmed dismissed the U.S. suggestion that Batouti sent the plane into a dive and the pilot rushed into the cockpit and tried to regain control, as was indicated by his pleas on the cockpit voice recorder.
Ahmed said the pilots' words and actions instead indicate confusion because something had "happened in the tail, and far away from the cockpit."
The two pilots took the right steps, he said, including turning off the autopilot and the engines in an attempt to control the plane.