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214 Feared Dead in EgyptAir Crash

October 31, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ An EgyptAir plane with 214 people on board crashed at sea off the island of Nantucket early today on a flight from New York to Egypt, and debris and at least one body were found in the water.

EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767, was headed to Cairo, Coast Guard Lt. Rob Halsey said. It originated in Los Angeles, according to EgyptAir officials at Cairo International Airport.

Searchers found one body and debris, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard M. Larrabee said at a news conference in Boston.

``The initial report was we had found seats, seat cushions, the flotation devices on the aircraft, life rafts and some other small parts that are not identifiable,″ Larrabee said.

He said the debris was located about 60 miles south of Nantucket, and that the operation was still considered a search and rescue effort.

The debris was found in the ``general vicinity of the last known point of contact″ with the plane, Larrabee said.

There were 199 passengers on the flight, including two infants, plus 15 crew members, an EgyptAir official said in Cairo.

At a news conference in Cairo, EgyptAir head Mohammed Fahim Rayan said there were 62 Egyptians, two Sudanese, three Syrians and one Chilean. There was no record of the nationality of 131 others, and Rayan said he believed some of those were Americans.

Rayan was asked twice about terrorism and said he had no information of any type of terrorist threat.

Earlier, there had been an uncomfirmed report of an SOS being sent by the crew. Rayan and Larrabee said they had no knowledge of any SOS.

``Contact with the plane was cut suddenly which indicates that something happened suddenly,″ Ibrahim el-Dimeiri, Egypt’s minister of transport, communications and civil aviation, said in Cairo.

Flight 990 took off from Kennedy at 1:19 a.m. and disappeared from radar at 2 a.m. while flying at 33,000 feet, said Eliot Brenner, chief spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington. Weather at Kennedy was good with 3 to 4 miles of visibility and light wind, the National Weather Service said.

According to FAA officials in Washington, the twin-engine plane’s takeoff from Kennedy was delayed by two hours because it arrived late from Los Angeles.

The delay from Los Angeles was caused by the plane’s late arrival Saturday on its flight from Cairo, said Nancy Suey Castles, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles International Airport. ``They (airline officials) did say that it was diverted from its regular stop at JFK due to weather at JFK and then landed at Newark (N.J.) instead,″ she said.

She did not know if the flight changed crews in Los Angeles. There was routine servicing of the plane and refueling. ``EgyptAir isn’t reporting anything unusual,″ she said.

The EgyptAir plane was on a route similar to the one taken by Swissair Flight 111, a McDonnell Douglas MD11, which crashed off Nova Scotia on Sept. 2, 1998, killing all 229 people aboard. Planes on that route fly from Kennedy to Nantucket, then turn north to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland before heading east across the Atlantic.

At Cairo Airport, relatives and friends gathered to await news.

Imad Kassab trembled with hope when he discovered that his brother-in-law, Essam Bahjat, was not on the passenger list for the flight as he had feared. Kassab, owner of the Cairo branch of the U.S.-based restaurant Cheesecake Factory, quickly called friends and relatives.

The plane was a Boeing 767-300ER delivered to the airline in September 1989. It had logged over 31,000 flight hours and 6,900 take-offs and landings, said Boeing spokeswoman Barbara Murphy in Seattle.

EgyptAir, founded in 1932 as Misr Airwork, has a fleet of 38 planes and flies to some 85 airports around the world.

It was the airline’s first fatal crash, Rayan said.

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 service.

The Boeing 767 is a twin-engine, wide-body passenger jet that went into passenger use in September 1982.

Previously, a Boeing 767 crashed on May 26, 1991, near Suphan Buri Province, Thailand. The Lauda Air plane lost control and crashed after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb. The crashed killed all 10 crew and 213 passengers.

In addition, an Ethiopian Airlines 767 crashed near Moroni, Comoros, on Nov. 23, 1996, while attempting to land after being hijacked. Ten of the 12 crew members and 117 of the 160 passengers were killed. The three hijackers apparently died.

The United States airline industry went through a fatality-free year in 1998, but this year there has been the crash of an American Airlines jet in Little Rock, Ark., the loss of John F. Kennedy’s private plane off Martha’s Vineyard this summer and last week’s crash of a Learjet carrying golfer Payne Stewart.

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