Flight 990 cockpit voice recorder data inconclusive

Monday, November 15th 1999, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said today he is confident there will be a resolution
of the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 -- although he raised the possibility of shifting oversight of the inquiry to another agency. Jim Hall told a news conference that his confidence was
bolstered by information being extracted from the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

Nonetheless, Hall said the progress of the investigation was being slowed by a painstaking process of translating the cockpit
voice information from Arabic, the native language of the pilots, to English.

He said he was aware of "rumors, theories and stories circulating" about the possibility of a criminal act causing the crash on Oct. 31.
That prompted him to add: "We are concentrating our efforts on determining from the evidence whether or not this investigation is to remain under the leadership of the National Transportation Safety Board."

In the case of a criminal act, oversight would shift to the FBI. Hall answered only a few questions and referred reporters back to his statement when he was asked about oversight of the investigation.

On Sunday, the NTSB said a first session listening to the cockpit voice recorder proved inconclusive, but a source close to the investigation said the pilots were talking at times "like pals." But speculation about a possible hijacking, crew fight or pilot suicide lingers because the flight data recorder shows that the plane's autopilot was turned off, the aircraft put into a dive, the throttles cut back and then the engines shut off.

Veteran pilots said they could not envision an airplane-related scenario that would prompt the crew to take those steps. Hall said investigators were working to synchronize the cockpit voice and flight data recorder information in their search for answers.

"As painstaking a process as it is," Hall said, "this one is made more difficult by the fact that it is almost entirely in a foreign language." The chairman, however, remained optimistic. "Because of the quality and the extensive information contained on the flight data recorder, I am confident that many of the
questions we have, you have and the individuals following this investigation around the world have, will be answered," Hall said.

The New York-to-Cairo jetliner crashed off Massachusetts' Nantucket Island, killing all 217 people on board. After a two-week search, the recorder was found Saturday night by a remote-operated robot. It was delivered to NTSB headquarters in Washington on Sunday.

Efforts to find clues in the plane's wreckage had stopped today because of the weather, said Navy Chief Petty Officer Jack O'Neill. "All the ships have been moved from the area because the sea state is so terrible out there," he said. "We're looking at three solid days of 12- to 13-foot seas." O'Neill said Navy crews had completed preliminary mapping of the
ocean floor and started taking a closer look at areas "that look like they could be something."

There had been no major finds, O'Neill said. "So far, it's usually just clam beds," he said. Preliminary data from the plane's flight data recorder showed that the Boeing 767's autopilot was switched off and the plane was
put into a dive so steep and fast that passengers would briefly have felt weightless. Additionally, the recorder showed both
engines were shut off before the aircraft climbed briefly out of its dive and then turned and dropped into the ocean.

Barry Schiff, a former TWA 767 pilot from Los Angeles and currently an aviation accident investigator, has said the data shows that some human factor was responsible rather than some system failure.

The head of the FBI's Boston office, Barry Mawn, said more than 250 FBI agents had conducted several hundred interviews related to the crash, but that there was no evidence yet that a crime had been committed.


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