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217 feared dead in EgyptAir crash

A U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue boat races to the site of the EgyptAir Flight 990 crash  

Clinton: 'No evidence of foul play'

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 2:17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT)

NANTUCKET, Massachusetts (CNN) -- An EgyptAir plane with 217 people on board crashed at sea early Sunday off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, en route from New York to Cairo, Egypt. The U.S. Coast Guard said one body was recovered from the water and all those on board are feared dead.

Distraught family and friends of the passengers and crew of Flight 990 gathered at the airport in Cairo. EgyptAir scheduled a special flight for them to fly from Cairo to the United States.

The relatives of 185 people on board the plane have been notified, an FBI spokesman said.

  EgyptAir Hotlines
  EgyptAir has set up the following numbers for families and friends of those on the flight to get information

In the U.S.:
(800) 243-1094

Outside the U.S.:
(202) 245-2244
(202) 244-1460
(202) 418-3690

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says he'll do everything he can for the families of the people on the plane

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VideoCNN's Jim Clancy reports on the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 (Oct. 31)
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Robert Kelly, aviation director of New York and New Jersey Port Authority, on wreckage location and investigation
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Dr. Samir El Shanawany of EgyptAir describes the aircraft's route and EgyptAir's initial response
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FBI Assistant Director Lewis Schiliro describes FBI presence in investigation
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Robert Boyle, Port Authority executive director, reads a statement from New York Gov. Pataki
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The Boeing 767 passenger plane disappeared from radar screens after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The plane plummeted at a "rapid rate," dropping at more than 20,000 feet per minute, said Jim Hall, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The plane descended from 33,000 feet to 19,000 feet in 36 seconds, he said.

Egypt's government asked the NTSB to lead the investigation into the crash, he added.

President Clinton said Sunday there was "no evidence ... at this time" of foul play in the EgyptAir crash. "We have no evidence of that at this time. And I think it's better if people draw no conclusions," Clinton said.

The Coast Guard is conducting a massive search of the area where the Federal Aviation Administration lost contact with the airliner. The plane disappeared about 2 a.m. EST, about 65 miles (100 km) southeast of Nantucket.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee said emergency crews had located a field of debris and recovered one body. Larrabee said that clothing, passports, life rafts, airplane seats and lifejackets were among debris found near the crash site. The plane was apparently carrying 199 passengers and 18 airline employees, according to EgyptAir officials.

The plane was carrying 199 passengers, 15 crew members and three employees who were not working on the flight, according to EgyptAir officials. Thirty-two passengers stayed on the flight from Los Angeles. But an employee whose name was not released got off the plane in New York, company officials said.

EgyptAir head Mohammed Fahim Rayan said at a news conference in Cairo that 62 Egyptians, two Sudanese, three Syrians, and one Chilean were aboard the plane as passengers. There was no record of the nationality of the other 131 passengers, and Rayan said he believed some of those were U.S. citizens.

The U.S. State Department said "there is reason to believe that a large number of American citizens were on board."

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said at a news conference that there were at least two tour groups on the plane and that there were Americans from "all over the United States" on board.

JFK airport officials are setting aside hotel rooms for relatives of the passengers. "Our major priority right now is family members," said Kelly. Kelly said chaplains are available and Muslim clerics are being brought in to comfort relatives as they wait for news of the crash.

The plane departed New York at 1:19 a.m. EST. The plane was flying at 33,000 feet (9,900 meters), said Eliot Brenner, chief spokesman for the FAA in Washington.

There was no indication of a distress call, U.S. officials said. But airport officials in Cairo said the last communication from the plane's crew was an SOS sent after the takeoff from New York.

The FAA contacted the Coast Guard about 2:15 a.m. EST, said Coast Guard Lt. Gary Jones.

"We're doing a very, very aggressive airborne search at this moment. Basically, if there is someone out there to be saved, saving lives at sea is our most important mission and we're doing that," Jones said.

As is standard operating procedure for a missing commericial airliner, the FBI New York Field Office has begun working with FAA officials.

crying people
Family and friends in Egypt await news of downed EgyptAir Flight 990 at the airport  

FBI agents are at JFK airport, along with members of the Joint Terrorist Task Force, where they have launched an investigation into the flight. FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette told CNN that "agents are going over the flight manifest, identifying everyone who touched the plane, including those who serviced and gassed the aircraft."

Valiquette cautioned that there is "no reason to assume this is a terrorist act."

An FAA spokesman said the plane departed two hours and 20 minutes late from JFK because it was late coming in from Los Angeles.

The National Weather Service said that at about the time the plane took off from JFK there was dense fog in the New York area, but the fog may not have played a role in the plane's disappearance.

"The fog definitely would not have been a factor, you just don't care whether there's fog or not in a plane as advanced as a 767," retired airline Capt. Art Cornelius told CNN.

The airline identified the pilot as Hakim Rushdi, who had more than 10,000 hours of flight experience. Colleagues described him as a "very experienced pilot." The airline said he had been in contact with his son, also an EgyptAir pilot, hours before leaving.

The airliner is a 10-year-old 767-300ER, an extended-range plane known for its North Atlantic service, said Boeing spokeswoman Barbara Murphy.

"It's an airplane that has enjoyed a wonderful safety record," she said.

EgyptAir has a fleet of 38 planes and flies to some 85 airports around the world.

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun an investigation, an NTSB spokesman said, and the New York Port Authority has set up a mobile command center.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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