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Plane Disappears Off East Coast

October 31, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ A Boeing 767 plane with 199 passengers aboard disappeared early today on a flight from New York to Egypt after the crew sent an SOS. Debris was found at sea off Nantucket, officials said.

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

The debris field was discovered 45 miles southeast of Nantucket, the island off the coast of Massachusetts, said Coast Guard Lt. Edward Gaynor. He had no other details.

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

``What we have right now is, we weren’t able to establish contact,″ Halsey said. ``They had them on radar and then lost the radar picture.″

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.

Airport officials in Cairo said the last communication from the plane’s crew was an SOS sent about 85 minutes after the takeoff from New York.

According to FAA officials in Washington, the plane’s takeoff from Kennedy was delayed by two hours because it arrived late from Los Angeles. The cause of the delay was not immediately known.

The Coast Guard sent every available cutter and aircraft in the Northeast to join the search, plus airplanes from far away as Elizabeth City, N.C., said spokesman Jim McPherson.

The National Transportation Safety Board was monitoring the situation but had not sent its ``go-team″ of investigators, said spokesman Keith Halloway.

An FBI source said the agency was monitoring the situation as part of a ``normal routine response″ to an aircraft disappearance, and had sent agents to Kennedy airport.

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 at 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 Boeing 767 is a twin-engine, wide-body passenger jet that went into passenger use in September 1982, when the first one was delivered to United Airlines. As of April 1, Boeing had received 865 orders for the 767 and delivered 746 airplanes.

One of the planes crashed on May 26, 1991, when a Lauda Air 767-300ER crashed near Suphan Buri Province, Thailand.

The Lauda airplane lost control and crashed after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb. The jet lost 25 percent to 30 percent of its lift and plunged out of control into the ground, killing all 10 crew and 213 passengers.

In addition, an Ethiopian Airlines 767-200ER crashed near Moroni, Comoros, on Nov. 23, 1996, while attempting to land after being hijacked. The aircraft had been on a flight from Ethiopia to Kenya. 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.

The Little Rock crash occurred June 1, as an MD-80 tried to land at night in stormy weather. Eleven people died.

The crash of Kennedy’s plane on July 16 killed him, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette.

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