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Relatives Seek News on Lost Plane

October 31, 1999

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The woman rushed into the arms of her relative, sobbing, ``What’s new? What’s new?″ desperate to know whether her son was on the EgyptAir Boeing 767 that disappeared early Sunday en route from New York to Cairo.

At Cairo airport, relatives, friends and colleagues gathered, seeking news about EgyptAir flight 990, which disappeared over the Atlantic around 60 miles off Nantucket with 199 passengers and 15 crew members on board.

Reports of the disappearance were broadcast on Egyptian television several hours before the plane had been due to arrive. People soon began gathering at the airport, tense with worry as airline officials kept them at the foot of a staircase below the EgyptAir operations office.

The woman, Aida, feared that her son, Essam Bahjat, an EgyptAir steward, was on Flight 990 returning home from vacation in the United States. He had promised to call his mother if he missed the flight _ and so far there was no word from him.

His hands trembling and his voice emotional, Bahjat’s brother-in-law, Imad Kassab, told Aida that her son’s name was not on the passenger list. Bahjat was not on the crew list, either.

But his parents were not convinced. His father, Bahjat Bahjat, pounded on the office window. ``He hasn’t called. He hasn’t called,″ he cried out. Kassab _ the owner of a Cairo branch of the U.S. restaurant Cheesecake Factory _ called relatives on his mobile phone with the latest news.

Around a dozen people gathered at the base of the stairs. One man started punching and shoving officials and had to be restrained.

A woman in a red scarf, whose husband was reportedly on board the flight, yelled from the bottom of the stairs, demanding to be let up to the office. ``We have relatives on this flight. Who else would try to come up?″

A Cairo travel agent, Ala Mansour, said he was planning to pick up a couple from Montreal due to arrive on the flight. ``This is very bad news,″ Mansour said. ``I was just going to the airport to meet my clients.″

In the operations office, EgyptAir’s head Mohammed Fahim Rayan and other officials huddled.

Outside the office, red-eyed airline stewards waited for news about their colleagues.

Flight 990, which originated in Los Angeles, took off from New York City’s Kennedy International Airport 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.

The Coast Guard sent every available cutter and aircraft in the Northeast to join the search, officials said.

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