Body Retrieved From EgyptAir Crash
BOSTON (AP) _ An EgyptAir jetliner bound for Cairo with 217 people on board plunged 33,000 feet in two minutes, crashing into the ocean off Nantucket Island early Sunday. Dozens of American tourists were among the passengers.
By nightfall, searchers had retrieved debris and one body, but held out little hope of finding survivors in the chilly Atlantic waters.
Authorities said the pilots made no distress call before the Boeing 767 crashed about a half hour after leaving New York. Though the FBI and other intelligence agencies began checking on the possibility of sabotage, President Clinton and other officials said there was no immediate indication of foul play.
``Life will never be the same without my parents,″ said Hisham Elzanaty of Searingtown, N.Y., whose parents were on the plane. ``We spent last night together until one in the morning. They prayed for us and we wished them a safe flight.″
Searchers found two partially inflated life rafts, life jackets, passports, seat cushions and other small debris, none with any burn marks, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard M. Larrabee. A finding of such marks on debris could suggest the possibility of a fire or explosion aboard the plane.
``We do not know at this point what caused the crash,″ said Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. ``We are beginning what may be a long investigation.″
Clinton, about to depart for Europe for Middle East peace talks, said there was ``no evidence ... at this time″ of foul play.
``I think it’s better if people draw no conclusions until we know something,″ said Clinton, who called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to offer condolences and U.S. assistance.
The air search was suspended after dark, but ships continued scouring the area. The Coast Guard said chances of anyone surviving more than 12 hours in the 58-degree water were slim.
A Navy salvage ship, the USS Grapple, and Navy divers left Norfolk, Va., Sunday night and were expected to join the search by late Monday, with orders to take debris and remains to a Navy base in Rhode Island.
U.S. officials indicated a majority of the 199 passengers on Flight 990 were Americans, including a group of 54 people bound for a 14-day trip to Egypt and the Nile. Alan Lewis, chief executive of the Boston-based travel agency Grand Circle Corp., said most of the group members were from Colorado, Arizona and the Pacific Northwest.
Among them was Jan Duckworth, 69, of Denver, who worked as a clerk in the Colorado House of Representatives for 22 years. ``It was her first trip to Egypt. She had been talking about it since way last winter,″ said Judith ``J.R.″ Rodrigue, chief clerk of the House.
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., roughly 60 miles south of Nantucket. The Coast Guard deployed ships, reconnaissance planes and helicopters to search an area of about 36 square miles, in waters about 270 feet deep.
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, EgyptAir said.
It was the fourth time in three years that a major search operation was launched in the region for a plane lost at sea. The series of crashes began with TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in July 1996, followed by Swissair Flight 111 off Nova Scotia in September 1998 and the single-engine plane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and her sister off Martha’s Vineyard in July.
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.
Armed security guards routinely fly on EgyptAir flights.
At the Cairo airport, sobs echoed though a restaurant where officials set up an information center for passengers’ relatives.
A man in his 60s found a familiar name on a passenger list and collapsed into a chair, crying out, ``My son, my son.″
Similar wrenching scenes unfolded at the Ramada Plaza Hotel near Kennedy airport, where more than 20 relatives were consoled by Red Cross workers, Muslim clerics and even New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
``It’s horrible in there. Everybody’s crying, everybody is in mourning,″ Mahmoud Hamza, who lost two friends on the flight, said as he fought back tears.
A Canadian newspaper, La Presse in Montreal, said one of its executives and his wife were aboard. Deputy publisher Claude Masson and his wife, Jeannine Bourdages, both 58, were headed on vacation.
Flight 990 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, and 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 slower descent rate after 19,100 feet could indicate an in-flight breakup, investigators suggested.
Weather at Nantucket was clear with 9 miles of visibility and wind of 9 mph, the National Weather Service said. The Coast Guard reported gentle seas.
The EgyptAir plane was on a route similar to the one taken by Swissair Flight 111. Planes on that route fly from Kennedy to Nantucket, then turn north to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland before heading east across the Atlantic.
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 service.
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 persons aboard were killed as well as factory workers on the ground.
Sunday’s crash comes after 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.
The Boeing 767 is a twin-engine, wide-body passenger jet that went into passenger use in September 1982.
Previously, a Boeing 767 crashed in May 1991, in Thailand. The Lauda Air plane went down after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 10 crew and 213 passengers.
The United States airline industry had a fatality-free year in 1998, but this year an American Airlines jet crashed at Little Rock, Ark., killing 11 people.