NTSB releases evidence reports in EgyptAir crash

WASHINGTON - Chilling details of a pilot's struggle to save doomed EgyptAir Flight 990 were released Friday in voluminous investigative documents that did little to settle a lingering dispute over what caused the plane to crash, killing 217 people.

''What is this, did you shut the engines?'' asked Capt. Mahmoud el-Habashy as he returned to the cockpit of the diving plane. ''Pull. Pull with me. Pull with me. Pull with me,'' he cried as he fought to pull out of a dive during the plane's last moments before it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket last Oct. 31.

The cockpit voice transcript released Friday did not make it clear if el-Habashy was trying to make sure the engines had been powered back or wondered why that had been done.

But Carl Vogt, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman now serving as a consultant to EgyptAir, said reducing power is the correct action when a plane goes into an unexpected dive.

''Reducing power is an act to maintain controllability of an aircraft,'' he said. ''It is evidence, in my mind as a pilot, that this pilot was trying to control the airplane ... he was trying to fly the airplane and maintain airspeed, not let it get excessive.''

James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, stressed in making the records public that the cause remains under investigation. But he also noted that no public hearing will be held by the board because its investigators ''believe there are no unresolved safety issues that require such a forum.''

Hall has testified before Congress that the movements of the plane were ''consistent with a deliberate action on the part of one of the crew members.''

That's a suggestion that Egyptian authorities stoutly deny. They did so again Friday, continuing to call for further study of radar data and the plane's elevator, the device that controls up and down movement of the craft's nose.

''Additional work remains to be done, particularly in the assessing of the design of the Boeing 767 elevator control system and gaining additional radar information, before the cause of this tragic accident can be finally determined,'' said Mohsen el Missiry, the head of the Egyptian group assisting in the investigation.

Much speculation as to the cause of the disaster has focused on the co-pilot believed to be at the controls at the time, Gameel El-Batouty. News leaks early in the investigation indicated that when left alone in the cockpit he made some sort of statement, followed by a prayer, before the plane went into a dive.

The board doesn't make public the actual tape recordings from cockpits, and El-Batouty's comment after el-Habashy left the cockpit is not resolved by the transcript released Friday. That transcript noted a dispute among the investigators over what was said:

''The five Arabic speaking members of the group concur that they do not recognize this as an Arabic word, words, or phrase. The entire group agrees that three syllables are heard and the accent is on the second syllable. Four Arabic speaking group members believe that they heard words similar to 'control it.' One English speaking member believes he heard a word similar to 'hydraulic.' The five other members believe that the word(s) were unintelligible.''

What was made clear by the transcripts was el-Habashy surprise to find his plane in a dive as he returned from a trip to the lavatory, and his battle to right the craft.

''What's happening?'' asked el-Habashy. ''What's happening Gamil? What's happening?''

''I rely on God,'' replies a second voice, believed to be that of El-Batouty, then flying the plane. The co-pilot repeated the phrase several times.

''What is this, did you shut the engines?'' asks el-Habashy, who then struggles to pull his plane out of the dive. The transcript did not show an immediate response from El-Batouty. About a minute and a half later, the captain exhorted: ''Pull with me.'' And the transcript ends there.

The Flight Data Recorder shows that the plane's autopilot was switched off and, just seconds before el-Habashy asked about the engines, first the right, then the left engine lever was switched from ''run'' to ''cutoff.''

The release of the factual reports of the various teams of investigators is a routine step in the lengthy process the NTSB uses to investigate plane crashes. The reports contain no analysis. That will be done as the investigators compare reports and seek comments from the airline, aircraft manufacturer and other interested groups as it moves toward a final report and conclusion.

Hall acknowledged there are continuing areas of friction between the U.S. and Egyptian authorities. ''Where they have disagreements, they have been allowed to submit them in writing,'' he said.

In addition to seeking further investigation of possible mechanical problems, el Missiry said the Egyptians were displeased with speculation regarding the cause of the accident and with news leaks about the reports. ''This is painful for the family,'' el Missiry said.

Hall said he has asked the FBI to investigate the source of the leaks.

The new reports compile the findings of investigators in such areas as human performance, aircraft structure, power plants, maintenance, air traffic control and so forth. It is possible that, ultimately, the United States and Egypt will cite evidence to support their separate theories as the investigation continues.

The docket also contained FBI reports indicating that El-Batouty had been investigated by a New York hotel's security staff for a number of incidents that allegedly included exposing himself. The allegations were contained in FBI investigative reports into the backgrounds of the plane's crew members.

Hall said the documents were included in the docket because the agency's investigators felt they have ''potential'' relevance to the rector of the Council on American Islamic Rwever, saying it remains to be determined whether the alleged incident is relevant.

In Cairo, El-Batouty's family angrily denounced the published allegations.

''They are running out of things to say, so they are ruining the guy's reputation,'' Walid El-Batouty, the co-pilot's nephew, told The Associated Press. ''They are trying to raise anything to divert people from the real reason (for the crash).''

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, commented that using a phrase like ''I put my trust in God,'' is not unusual.

El-Batouty ''repeats, 'I put my trust in God' many times and this is not something that you would do if you've made the decision to do some criminal act. This is something you would do if you are trying to prevent something from happening or if you realized that you're going to die and you're going to put your trust in God because there is no way out of it and you think you're going to die,'' Hooper said.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the group, likened the phrase to ''In God We Trust.''

Rejecting the theory that the plane was deliberately crashed, families of the crew members have filed suit against the plane's manufacturer, Boeing.


On the Net:

National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov

EgyptAir: http://www.egyptair.com.eg


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