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Egypt's ambassador praises work on Flight 990 probe

Cooperation between crash investigators 'excellent'

November 18, 1999
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EST (0443 GMT)

In this story:

Full transcript could take five days

'Faith in God's hands'

Disputing of suicide theory

Related developments


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nabil Fahmi, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, said Egyptian and American officials reviewing data from the EgyptAir Flight 990 disaster were engaged in "very serious work" Thursday evening and probably will continue their meetings Friday.

"I have to say the spirit of the discussion is excellent," Fahmi said.

VideoCNN's Carl Rochelle looks at the latest in the EgyptAir investigation (November 17)
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VideoState Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel looks at how the investigation into the EgyptAir crash is affecting diplomatic relations between the United States and Egypt
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VideoCorrespondent Brent Sadler reports on how family members of backup copilot Gameel el-Batouty are reacting to the probe of the EgyptAir crash
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VideoEgyptians find the theory that a pilot may have caused the EgyptAir crash hard to believe, as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports. (November 17)
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El-Batouty's nephew, Walid el-Batouty, says his uncle was a happy man looking forward to his retirement

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CNN NewsStand focuses on the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990

Investigators say they have found no sign of mechanical or weather related problems that could explain the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990
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How airline safety measures are determined
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CNN talks with a doctor who ensures that pilots are healthy enough to fly
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Lessons learned from air disasters of the past
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Safety standards of international airlines
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How to check an airline's safety record
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EgyptAir Crash


Earlier, many Egyptians were reported outraged at speculation by Americans close to the investigation that the October 31 crash may have been caused by a suicidal act on the part of an Egyptian backup co-pilot. All 217 people aboard the Boeing 767 died.

Famhi said he also had met with officials of the FBI, which has been poised to take over the investigation if evidence of criminal activity is found.

Full transcript could take five days

Investigators are working on a complete, precise transcript of the plane's cockpit voice tape. The job is expected to take at least five days.

Confusion over the meaning of words spoken by backup co-pilot Gameel el-Batouty, who may have been alone in the cockpit when the plane began its fatal dive, has contributed to uncertainty among investigators.

So far, there is no evidence of an explosion or mechanical malfunction in the Boeing 767 immediately before it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Massachusetts.

But officials also stressed that the suicide hypothesis remains unproved and that no one has been accused of a crime.

'Faith in God's hands'

Investigators said el-Batouty is heard saying in Arabic on the tape, "I made my decision now; I put my faith in God's hands."

Non-Islamic investigators remain uncertain whether to give literal meaning to el-Batouty's words, to treat the phrases as thoughtful prayer -- or to consider the words as no more than a common expression.

Moments after el-Batouty's comment, according to this account of the voice tape, Capt. Ahmed al-Habashy, the plane's pilot, returned to the cockpit and struggled in vain to pull the plane out of its plunge.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday the last 15 seconds of the available data show the plane's left elevator -- the horizontal portion of the tail controlled by the captain -- was in a "nose-up" position in an apparent attempt to recover from the steep dive.

At the same time, the right elevator, controlled by el- Batouty, was in a "nose-down" mode.

The flap-like devices control the up-and-down position or attitude of the aircraft in the air. In the final seconds, the elevators were working at cross purposes.

The NTSB voice-recorder group and translators are to compile "a literal, factual transcript of all conversations and sounds," the board said.

They will be assisted by representatives from Egypt, the Boeing Co., which built the plane, along with officials from engine-maker Pratt & Whitney and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Dispute of suicide theory

Ambassador Fahmi, referring to speculation that the plane may have been brought down intentionally, said, "Yes, it does bother me that information has leaked. Part of it may be correct. Part of it may not be correct.

"I think you have to take into account there are many families involved here, and it's important not to ignore the pain and suffering that they have already gone through," Fahmi said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"It's also important not to feed into speculation by providing piecemeal information. Not all of the information that is out there is correct," he added.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that "focusing on the prayer as a sign of potential crime ... demonstrates to me a lack of knowledge of Islam."

He told CNN, "I think it reflects badly on the investigation."

Awad said the words spoken by el-Batouty were a "positive" expression, not something a Muslim would say to precede "evil," such as suicide.

He said he voiced the same prayer as he left his home Thursday on his way to be interviewed.

Related developments:

  • A $50 million wrongful-death lawsuit was filed by the estate of Ghassan Koujan, 38, a chef from Paterson, New Jersey, who died aboard Flight 990. The suit, which names EgyptAir and Boeing as defendants, was the first to result from the tragedy.

  • There is renewed interest in putting video cameras -- not just voice recorders -- in airliner cockpits. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, has asked the Transportation Department, the FAA and the NTSB to speed up a study on how to upgrade data collection during airplane flights.

Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Wedeman, Correspondents Carl Rochelle, Pierre Thomas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NTSB: Last seconds of data pulled from EgyptAir flight recorder
November 17, 1999
NTSB to keep control of EgyptAir probe for now
November 16, 1999
FBI chief meets with leader of EgyptAir 990 probe
November 15, 1999
Pressure builds to recover Flight 990 voice recorder
November 13, 1999
EgyptAir 990's engines apparently cut off in flight
November 12, 1999
Weather suspends search for second Flight 990 'black box'
November 11, 1999
'Black box' data: No thrust reverser deployment, no supersonic speed
November 10, 1999
Recovered EgyptAir recorder contains more data than expected
November 9, 1999

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