Navy salvage ship steams toward crash site
Monday, November 1st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
BOSTON (AP) -- The Coast Guard kept up a grim search for survivors in the choppy waters off Nantucket Island early today as hope dwindled of finding anyone alive from EgyptAir Flight 990.
While relatives mourned the 217 passengers and crew members, investigators began the painstaking task of figuring out what
caused the jetliner to plummet into the sea from 33,000 feet early Sunday. The descent took just two minutes.
The FBI and other intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility of sabotage, but authorities said there has been no
indication of foul play. Search crews scouring 36 square miles of the Atlantic have recovered a lone body.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard M. Larrabee said today that he had not abandoned hope of finding survivors -- in water that is just 58
degrees and 270 feet deep -- but said "we're getting closer to that point, we're still searching for the survivors this morning."
Larrabee told The Associated Press he would decide later today whether to change the mission from a search and rescue to a search
and recovery operation.
In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the National Transportation Safety Board had notified most families by Sunday night and would make the list of names public when notification is completed.
A contingent of emergency workers planned to travel with 27 people representing 16 families to Providence this afternoon.
Giuliani said families were being asked to bring medical records and pictures to help identify loved ones.
The Boeing 767 slammed into the ocean 33 minutes after leaving New York for Cairo with dozens of American tourists on board. By
today searchers had recovered two of the jet's evacuation slides, clothing and passports, partially inflated life rafts, life jackets
and seat cushions.
None of the items had burn marks, which could have indicated a fire or explosion on board, Larrabee said. And with no distress
call from the pilots and a fall of nearly 300 feet per second, investigators had few clues.
While the debris field stayed intact overnight, Larrabee said searchers would have to recover as much today as possible with rain
and windy conditions forecast for Tuesday.
Six Coast Guard cutters searched through the night and a Navy salvage ship, the USS Grapple, and Navy divers were expected to
arrive in the area by tonight, with orders to take debris and remains to a former Navy base in Rhode Island.
"We are beginning what may be a long investigation," said NTSB chairman Jim Hall. He said airline and Egyptian government
officials will provide help.
Hall said he was confident they would find the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder -- popularly called "black boxes" -- and said there is a good record of the instruments being found after major crashes.
EgyptAir Chairman Mohammed Fahim Rayan was asked about reports that the Federal Aviation Administration had warned EgyptAir of a terrorist threat. "We take all precautions and we have plenty of warnings from everybody, including the FAA," he replied.
U.S. officials indicated a majority of the 199 passengers were Americans, including a group of 54 bound for a two-week trip to
Egypt and the Nile. Alan Lewis, chief executive of the Boston travel agency Grand Circle Corp., said most of the group members
were from Colorado, Arizona and the Pacific Northwest.
State-owned EgyptAir, confronted with the worst crash in its history, said non-American passengers included 62 Egyptians, two
Sudanese, three Syrians and one Chilean. There were 18 crew members.
The plane started its flight in Los Angeles and stopped at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. It took off again at
1:19 a.m. EST and went down at 1:52 a.m., some 60 miles south of Nantucket Island in water about 270 feet deep.
The jet began its precipitous descent at 1:50 a.m. while flying at 33,000 feet. Hall said the plane dropped about 14,000 feet over the next 36 seconds. The last radar signal was at 1:52 a.m.
That rate of descent would "indicate the plane was almost out of control," said Michael Barr, head of the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California.
The weather at Nantucket at the time was clear with 9 miles of visibility and wind of 9 mph, the National Weather Service said.
It was the region's fourth tragedy in three years. The series of crashes began with TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, N.Y., in July 1996, followed by Swissair Flight 111 off Nova Scotia in September 1998 and the small plane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and
her sister off Martha's Vineyard in July.
At the Cairo airport, sobs echoed through a restaurant where officials set up an information center for passengers' relatives. A
man in his 60s collapsed into a chair, crying out, "My son, my son."
Wrenching scenes also unfolded at the Ramada Plaza Hotel near Kennedy airport, where more than 20 relatives were consoled by Red Cross workers and Muslim clerics, and at the Islamic Center of Long Island.
"I have family pictures," said a sobbing Wadida Farid, a sister of one of the pilots. "That is all I have left. This is so
The EgyptAir plane, named Thutmosis II after a pharaoh who ruled Egypt around 1450 B.C., was a Boeing 767-300ER delivered to the
airline in September 1989. The FAA said the plane had 33,354 flight hours.
EgyptAir, founded in 1932 as Misr Airwork, has a fleet of 38 planes and flies to some 85 airports around the world. Critics have
called for the privatization of the company, one of the oldest in Africa and the Middle East, amid reports of bad management and bad
The airline has never had as deadly a crash. In 1976, an EgyptAir Boeing 707 jetliner crashed during an approach to the Bangkok, Thailand, airport. All 55 people aboard were killed as well as factory workers on the ground.
Thailand was also the site of a 1991 Lauda Air crash that involved a Boeing 767 that rolled off the assembly line 10 years ago, just after the EgyptAir plane that crashed this weekend. The
233 passengers and crew were killed. The time the two planes were built was shortly before company workers went on strike,
complaining of too much forced overtime.
A Boeing spokesman said Sunday the
company knew of nothing to indicate the two crashes were related, but added, "we're going to look at every possible scenario."
The crash follows the Oct. 19 hijack of an EgyptAir flight between Istanbul and Cairo. That hijacking ended peacefully in Germany where the hijacker was overpowered; none of the 46 passengers on board was harmed.