29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Boeing coverup?By Amira Ibrahim
Eight months after EgyptAir flight 990 crashed off the New England coast on 31 October, killing all 217 people on board, the families of five crew-members have decided to initiate legal action against a number of US companies, among them Boeing, engine-maker Pratt & Whitney (a unit of United Technologies Corporation) and Parker Hannifin Corporation, which makes hydraulic valves used in control systems.
The lawsuit, filed on 21 June, seeks an unspecified amount for wrongful death, mental anguish and other damages. Attorneys Gerald Sterns and Michael Vernam filed the suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the families of the crew-members, including Captain Ahmed Habashi and his co-pilot, Gamil El-Batouti, who was accused by the American media of deliberately crashing the Boeing 767.
The court papers state that the exact nature of the malfunction that caused the crash is still unknown. The papers make no allusion to any suicide theory, but in a separate statement to press, Sterns and Vernam expressed doubts that El-Batouti was ever alone in the cockpit, as some scenarios previously suggested.
"Why didn't he lock the cockpit door if he was bent on the destruction of the plane?" the attorneys asked, noting that evidence used to support a possible struggle between crew-members could have had other causes. "On the other hand, El-Batouti was a loving family man. There could be no less likely candidate in the world for suicide, much less mass murder," they said.
Speaking on behalf of his family, Walid El-Batouti, a nephew of the co-pilot, asserted that neither his family nor those of other crew members were interested in the compensation money.
"We are not interested in material things," El-Batouti said. "We just want to know the truth, the real truth, and not what others want us to accept."
Asked if they were encouraged to file the lawsuit by the EgyptAir administration, Injy Habashi, daughter of Captain Ahmed Habashi, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "Neither EgyptAir nor the NTSB has contacted us since the crash. We have to find out about news of the investigation ourselves." EgyptAir adopts a "silence policy" with regard to developments in the case, Habashi said, whether they are positive or negative.
The families of the crew-members had been searching for a qualified lawyer with experience in aviation cases. "We contacted the Egyptian embassy in the US, which suggested attorney Sterns, who has been working on aviation cases for 40 years," Habashi explained.
"The attorneys have confidence in our case. Otherwise, they would not have come to Egypt at their own expense and agreed to file the lawsuit," Habashi said, adding that the families of other crew-members had failed to file a lawsuit in New Jersey because the court requested strong evidence before accepting the case.
Sterns has stated that the suicide theory does not make sense. "We think it's a mechanical issue,'' he said. "What I can't do is pinpoint it at this point."
EgyptAir Chairman Fahim Rayan said he supported the legal action, telling the Arabic-language press that the families of the crew-members have the right to file the lawsuit. He added that Egyptian investigators have provided the American side with documents supporting the Egyptian theory that the crash was caused by a mechanical failure.
NTSB Chairman James Hall has testified before Congress that the plane's movements were "consistent with a deliberate action on the part of one of the crew-members." His testimony was used by the Western media to revive the suicide theory -- rejected both by public and official opinion in Egypt.
"The company hopes that the [NTSB] report on the crash will reveal the whole truth," Rayan stated. "The name of EgyptAir has been damaged by the crash, and we are determined to reject the report if it is unfair and does not take into consideration the evidence we presented."
Captain Walid Murad, head of the Egyptian Pilots Association, argued that Hall's testimony and the reports that followed prove that NTSB officials have been playing games.
"It is obvious now that such reports, deliberately leaked from the beginning, aimed to prepare Egyptians to accept this nonsense," Murad told the Weekly, insisting that the NTSB report should include conclusive material evidence explaining what caused the crash. "The suicide scenario only reflects the weak and helpless position of those who promote it," he added.
The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority had sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Authority, suggesting the efficacy of the mechanical fault theory. "We asked for an investigation of the tail unit to find out if there had been a mechanical problem in the actuator," explains a top EgyptAir source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Strangely enough, the tail unit could not be retrieved from the ocean, although the black box -- located in the tail unit -- was recovered."
"Egyptian investigators have suggested a number of scenarios of what may have happened on board the Boeing, each supported by evidence," the source said, indicating that investigators had disproved the suicide theory on the basis of strong evidence. "Why would some [people] then insist on the wrong interpretation of each detail?"
Boeing officials have not responded directly to the lawsuit, as they had not yet seen the papers. "We've got a lot of faith in the 767 and its safety systems," company spokesman Russ Young stated.
A spokesman for engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, also named in the suit, said the aircraft's engines have never been implicated in the EgyptAir crash.
Tail unit scenario gains credence - 2 - 8 December 1999
Was it sabotage? -25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Credible conspiracies - 25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Public outrage over suicide leak- 25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Unravelling the tragedy - 4 - 10 November 1999
'We need to know'- 4 - 10 November 1999
The National Transportation Safety Board: