SU-GAP, the aircraft involved in the accident, taxiing at Düsseldorf Airport in June 1992.
|Date||October 31, 1999|
• Deliberate crash – probable pilot suicide (NTSB)
• Mechanical fault in elevator control system (ECAA)
|Site||Atlantic Ocean, 100 km (62 mi) south of Nantucket|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 767-366ER|
|Aircraft name||Tuthmosis III|
|Flight origin||Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Stopover||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, New York, United States|
|Destination||Cairo International Airport, Cairo, Egypt|
Egypt Air Flight 990 (MS990) was a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles International Airport, United States, to Cairo International Airport, Egypt, with a stop at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City. On October 31, 1999, the Boeing 767 operating the route crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (100 km) south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, killing all 217 passengers and crew on board. The National Transportation Safety Board reports that the official probable cause of the crash was a deliberate action by the relief first officer.
As the crash occurred in international waters, it was investigated by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Agency (ECAA) per International Civil Aviation Organization Annex 13. As the ECAA lacked the resources of the much larger U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Egyptian government asked the NTSB to handle the investigation. Two weeks after the crash, the NTSB proposed handing the investigation over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the evidence suggested that a criminal act had taken place and that the crash was intentional rather than accidental. This proposal was unacceptable to the Egyptian authorities, and hence the NTSB continued to lead the investigation. As the evidence of a deliberate crash mounted, the Egyptian government reversed its earlier decision and the ECAA launched its own investigation. The two investigations came to very different conclusions:
- the NTSB concluded that the relief first officer Gamil Al-Batouti deliberately crashed the plane
- the ECAA determined that the incident was caused by mechanical failure of the aircraft’s elevator control system.
The ECAA’s report suggested several control failure scenarios as possible causes of the crash, focusing on a possible failure of one of the right elevator’s power control units. While the NTSB’s report did not determine a specific reason for the relief first officer’s alleged actions, their report stated the impact was a result of the relief first officer’s flight control inputs. Supporting its deliberate-act conclusion, the NTSB report determined that no mechanical failure scenario could result in aircraft movements that matched those recorded by the flight data recorder (FDR), and that even if any of the failure scenarios put forward by the Egyptian authorities occurred, the aircraft would still have been recoverable because of the 767’s redundant elevator control system.
Flight 990 was being flown in a Boeing 767-366 ER aircraft with registration SU-GAP. The aircraft was a stretched extended-range version of the standard 767 and delivered to Egypt Air as a new aircraft on September 26, 1989.
|Captain Ahmed El-Habashi (57)||With EgyptAir for 36 years; pilot in command; total time: 14,400 hours; 6,300 hours on the B767.|
|First Officer Adel Anwar (36)||He was switching duty with another co-pilot so he could return home in time for his wedding|
|Captain Raouf Noureldin (52)||Relief Captain|
|First Officer Gamil Al-Batouti (59)||Relief First Officer; total time 12500 hours, 5,200 hours on the B767|
|Captain Hatem Rushdy.||Chief Pilot Boeing 767|
Because of the 10-hour scheduled flight time, the flight required two complete flight crews, each consisting of one captain and one first officer. EgyptAir designated one crew as the active crew and the other as the cruise crew, sometimes also referred to as the relief crew. While there was no formal procedure specifying when each crew flew the aircraft, it was customary for the active crew to make the takeoff and fly the first four to five hours of the flight. The cruise crew then assumed control of the aircraft until about one to two hours before landing, at which point the active crew returned to the cockpit and assumed control of the aircraft. Egypt Air designated the captain of the active crew as the pilot-in-command or the commander of the flight.
While the cruise crew was intended to take over far into the flight, the relief first officer entered the cockpit and recommended that he relieve the first officer 20 minutes after takeoff. The first officer initially protested, but eventually agreed.
The flight was carrying 203 passengers from seven countries: Canada, Egypt, Germany, Sudan, Syria, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Of the people on board, 100 were American, 89 were Egyptian (75 passengers, 14 crew), 21 were Canadian, and 7 were of other nationalities. 54 of the American passengers, many of them elderly, were booked with the tour group Grand Circle Travel for a 14-day trip to Egypt. Of the 203 passengers, 32 boarded in Los Angeles; the rest boarded in New York. Four were non-revenue EgyptAir crew members. Included in the passenger manifest were 33 Egyptian military officers returning from a training exercise; among them were two brigadier-generals, a colonel, a major, and four other air force officers. After the crash, newspapers in Cairo were prevented by censors from reporting the officers’ presence on the flight.
Time is in UTC; EST= UTC-5
At 0620, the aircraft took off from JFK Airport’s runway 22R. While relief first officer Al-Batouti was alone in the cockpit and Captain El-Habashi was in the lavatory, the aircraft suddenly went into a rapid dive nose-first, resulting in weightlessness (zero-g) throughout the cabin. Despite this, the captain was able to fight the zero-g and re-enter the cockpit. The speed of the 767 was now dangerously close to the sound barrier, exceeding its design limits and starting to weaken its airframe. The captain pulled back on his control column and applied full power to the engines, but neither action had any effect due to the aircraft’s speed and the engines having been shut down. The captain then deployed the speedbrakes, which slowed the aircraft’s dive, bringing it back to a safer speed. However, these abrupt maneuvers resulted in the aircraft entering a steep climb, causing g-forces to push the passengers and crew into their seats. Both engines then stopped completely, causing the aircraft to lose all electrical power and both flight recorders stopped at this point. The aircraft then fell into another steep dive and the huge mechanical stress caused the left engine to separate from the left wing. The aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at 0652, killing all 217 people on board.
Air traffic control (ATC)
US air traffic controllers provided transatlantic flight control operations as a part of the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (referred to in radio conversations simply as Centre and abbreviated in the reports as ZNY). The airspace is divided into areas, and Area F was the section that oversaw the airspace through which Flight 990 was flying. Transatlantic commercial air traffic travels via a system of routes called North Atlantic Tracks, and Flight 990 was the only aircraft at the time assigned to fly North Atlantic Track Zulu. There are also a number of military operations areas over the Atlantic, called Warning Areas, which are also monitored by New York Center, but records show that these were inactive the night of the incident.
Interaction between ZNY and Flight 990 was completely routine. After takeoff, Flight 990 was handled by three different controllers as it climbed up in stages to its assigned cruising altitude. The aircraft, like all commercial airliners, was equipped with a Mode C transponder, which automatically reported the plane’s altitude when queried by the ATC radar.
- At 0644, the transponder indicated that Flight 990 had leveled off at FL330.
- 0647, the controller requested that Flight 990 switch communications radio frequencies for better reception. A pilot on Flight 990 acknowledged on the new frequency. This was the last transmission received from the flight.
- The records of the radar returns then indicate a sharp descent: (Note: these times are in Universal Coordinated Time [UTC], which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.)
- 0649:53 – Flight Level 329
- 0650:05 – Flight Level 315
- 0650:17 – Flight Level 254
- 0650:29 – Flight Level 183 (this was the last altitude report received by ATC)
- The plane dropped 14,600 feet (4,500 m) in 36 seconds.
- Several subsequent primary returns (simple radar reflections without the encoded Mode C altitude information) were received by ATC, the last being at 0652:05.
- At 0654, the ATC controller tried notifying Flight 990 that radar contact had been lost, but received no reply.
- At 0656, the controller contacted ARINC to determine if Flight 990 had switched to an oceanic frequency too early. ARINC attempted to contact Flight 990 on SELCAL, also with no response.
- The controller then contacted a nearby aircraft, Lufthansa Flight 499, and asked the flight’s crew to try to raise Flight 990, but they were unable to make radio contact, although they also reported they were not receiving any emergency locator transmitter signals.
- Air France Flight 439 was then asked to overfly the last known position of Flight 990, but that crew reported nothing out of the ordinary.
- Centre also provided coordinates of Flight 990’s last-known position to Coast Guard rescue aircraft.
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the captain excusing himself to go to the lavatory, followed thirty seconds later by the first officer saying in Egyptian Arabic Tawkalt ala Allah, which translates to I rely on God. A minute later, the autopilot was disengaged, immediately followed by the first officer again saying, I rely on God. Three seconds later, the throttles for both engines were reduced to idle, and both elevators were moved three degrees nose down. The first officer repeated I rely on God seven more times before the captain suddenly asked repeatedly, What’s happening, what’s happening?“The flight data recorder reflected that the elevators then moved into a split condition, with the left elevator up and the right elevator down, a condition which is expected to result when the two control columns are subjected to at least 50 pounds (23 kg) of opposing force. At this point, both engines were shut down by moving the start levers from run to cutoff. The captain asked, What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engines?”The captain is then recorded as saying get away in the engines (this is the literal translation that appears in the NTSB transcript), followed by shut the engines. The first officer replies It’s shut. The final recorded words are the captain repeatedly stating, Pull with me but the FDR data indicated that the elevator surfaces remained in a split condition (with the left surface commanding nose up and the right surface commanding nose down) until the FDR and CVR stopped recording. There were no other aircraft in the area. There was no indication that an explosion occurred on board. The engines operated normally for the entire flight until they were shut down. From the presence of a western debris field about 1,200 feet (370 m) from the eastern debris field, the NTSB concluded that the left engine and some small pieces of wreckage separated from the aircraft before water impact.
Search and rescue operations
The aircraft crashed in international waters, so the Egyptian government had the right to initiate its own search and rescue and investigation. Because the government did not have the resources to salvage the aircraft, the Egyptian government requested that the United States lead the investigation. The Egyptian government signed a letter formally ceding responsibility of investigating the accident to the United States.
Search and rescue operations were launched within minutes of the loss of radar contact, with the bulk of the operation being conducted by the United States Coast Guard. At 03:00 EST, an HU-25 Falcon jet took off from Air Station Cape Cod, becoming the first rescue party to reach the last known position of the plane. All U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the area were immediately diverted to search for the aircraft, and an urgent marine information broadcast was issued, requesting mariners in the area to keep a lookout for the downed aircraft.
At sunrise, the United States Merchant Marine Academy training vessel T/V Kings Pointer found an oil sheen and some small pieces of debris. Rescue efforts continued by air and by sea, with a group of U.S. Coast Guard cutters covering 10,000 square miles (26,000 km2) on October 31 with the hope of locating survivors, but no bodies were recovered from the debris field. Eventually most passengers were identified by DNA from fractured remains recovered from the debris field and the ocean floor. Atlantic Strike Team members brought two truckloads of equipment from Fort Dix, New Jersey, to Newport, Rhode Island, to set up an incident command post. Officials from the United States Navy and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were dispatched to join the command. The search and rescue operation was suspended on November 1, 1999, with the rescue vessels and aircraft moving instead to recovery operations. A second salvage effort was made in March 2000 that recovered the aircraft’s second engine and some of the cockpit controls.
Under the International Civil Aviation Organization treaty, the investigation of an aircraft crash in international waters is under the jurisdiction of the country of registry of the aircraft. At the request of the Egyptian government, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) took the lead in this investigation, with the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) participating. The investigation was supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Coast Guard, the US Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, EgyptAir, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines.
Two weeks after the crash, the NTSB proposed declaring the crash a criminal event and handing the investigation over to the FBI. Egyptian government officials protested, and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, traveled to Washington to join the investigation.
Defection of Hamdi Hanafi Taha
In February 2000, EgyptAir 767 Captain Hamdi Hanafi Taha sought political asylum in London after landing his aircraft there. In his statement to British authorities, he claimed to have knowledge of the circumstances behind the crash of Flight 990. He is reported to have said that he wanted to stop all lies about the disaster, and to put much of the blame on EgyptAir management.
The NTSB and FBI sent officials to interview Taha, whose statements provided a possible motive for why Al-Batouti may have deliberately crashed the aircraft. According to Taha, hours before the flight, Al-Batouti was demoted by an EgyptAir executive who was on board the plane.
Osama El-Baz, an adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said, This pilot can’t know anything about the plane; the chances that he has any information [about the crash of Flight 990] are very slim.”EgyptAir officials also immediately dismissed Taha’s claim. American investigators confirmed key aspects of Taha’s information, but decided not to anger the Egyptian government further by issuing any official statement about Al-Batouti’s motive. EgyptAir terminated Taha’s employment, and his application for British asylum was reportedly declined, though he gave an extensive 2002 newspaper interview in London, and a 2005 documentary credited him as Exiled Captain.
NTSB investigation and conclusion
The NTSB investigation fairly quickly centered on the actions of the relief first officer, Gamil Al-Batouti, and this drew relatively minor criticism from the Egyptians. The NTSB determined that the only way for the observed split elevator condition to occur was if the left seat pilot (the captain’s position) was commanding nose up while the right seat pilot (the first officer’s position) commanded nose down. As the Egyptian investigation forwarded various mechanical failure scenarios, they were each tested by the NTSB and found not to match the factual evidence. The NTSB concluded that no mechanical failure scenario either they or the Egyptians could come up with matched the evidence on the ground, and that even if mechanical failure had been experienced, the 767’s design made the situation recoverable.
The NTSB’s final report was issued on March 21, 2002, after a two-year investigation, and concluded that the crash was a suicide by pilot.
NTSB Summary :
- The accident airplane’s nose-down movements did not result from a failure in the elevator control system or any other airplane failure.
- The accident airplane’s movements during the initial part of the accident sequence were the result of the relief first officer’s manipulation of the controls.
- The accident airplane’s movements after the command captain returned to the cockpit were the result of both pilots’ inputs, including opposing elevator inputs where the relief first officer continued to command nose-down and the captain commanded nose-up elevator movements.
NTSB Probable Cause:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the EgyptAir flight 990 accident is the airplane’s departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the relief first officer’s flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer’s actions was not determined.
ECAA investigation and conclusion
After formally ceding responsibility for the investigation of the accident to the NTSB, the Egyptian authorities became increasingly unhappy with the direction the investigation was heading and launched their own investigation in the weeks following the accident. The ECAA report concluded that the Relief First Officer did not deliberately dive the airplane into the ocean and that mechanical failure was a plausible and likely cause of the accident.
William Langewiesche, an aviation journalist, said: In the case of the Egyptians, they were following a completely different line of thinking. It seemed to me that they knew very well that their man, Batouti, had done this. They were pursuing a political agenda that was driven by the need to answer to their higher-ups in a very pyramidal, autocratic political structure. The word had been passed down from on high, probably from Mubarak himself, that there was no way that Batouti, the co-pilot, could have done this. For the accident investigators in Egypt, the game then became not pursuing the truth but backing the official line.
Responses to reports
The NTSB investigation and its results drew criticism from the Egyptian government, which advanced several alternative theories about mechanical malfunction of the aircraft. In Western countries, the Egyptian rejection of the NTSB report was attributed to a strong Egyptian cultural aversion to suicide. The theories proposed by Egyptian authorities were tested by the NTSB, and none were found to match the facts. For example, an elevator assembly hardover (in which the elevator in a fully extended position sticks because the hinge catches on the tail frame) proposed by the Egyptians was discounted because the flight recorder data showed the elevator was in a “split condition”. In this state, one side of the elevator is up and the other down; on the 767, this condition is only possible through flight control input (i.e., one yoke is pushed forward, the other pulled backward).
There was some evidence that one of the right elevator’s power control units may have suffered a malfunction, and the Egyptian investigation mentioned this as a likely cause of the crash. While noting that the damage did indeed exist, the NTSB countered that it was more likely a result of the crash rather than a pre-existing problem, as the 767 is designed to remain airworthy even with two PCUs failed.
In response to the ECAA’s claim of NTSB unprofessionalism, former NTSB director of aviation safety Bernard Loeb stated:
What was unprofessional, was the insistence by the Egyptians, in the face of irrefutable evidence, to anyone who knows anything about investigating airplane accidents and who knows anything about aerodynamics and airplanes, was the fact that this airplane was intentionally flown into the ocean. No scenario that the Egyptians came up with, or that we came up with, in which there were some sort of mechanical failure in the elevator control system, would either match the flight profile or was a situation in which the airplane was not recoverable.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.org
Aircraft Accident Brief NTSB/AAB-02/01 (PB2002-910401): Egypt Air Flight 990, Boeing 767-366ER, SU-GAP 60 miles South of Nantucket, Massachusetts 31 October 1999
- Jim Hall NTSB Chairman 1994-2001
- Atef al-Najmi Lawyer for Egyptian Victims’ Families. Egypt had fully authorized the US to run this investigation.
- Jerry Sterns Lawyer for American Victim’s families
SUGAP Purchase Agreement 1988: It sent it to the American judiciary and the NTSB. . . for any injury or death of any person or loss or damage to any property, including the aircraft. It accepted liability for compensating (the families of) the passengers in full regardless of the cause of the accident. Egypt accepted and didn’t raise a formal objection. President Mubarak took the American side into account at the expense of the Egyptian citizen.
FAA Emergency Aviation Directive 18 September 2000
- All 767 operators to perform a one-time functional check of one shear rivet in all six elevator PCA bell crank assemblies within 30 days, reworking or replacing the bell crank assembly if needed.
The Daily Telegraph by David Wastell 17 March 2002: the copilot of Egypt Air Flight 990 which crashed off New England killing 217 people in 1999, brought the plane down as an act of revenge after being told that he would no longer be allowed to fly the transatlantic routes according to a senior colleague.
Former Egypt Air Captain Taha Mahmoud Hamdy one of about 50 Egypt Air crew members summoned to a meeting in Cairo after the crash, said that the plane was deliberately put into a nose dive by Gamil al-Batouti after he had been reprimanded for sexual misconduct that embarrassed the company. Captain Hamdy said that Batouti had been told just before the New York to Cairo flight took off that that he would no longer be allowed the lucrative and prestigious transatlantic routes because of a series of allegations which included exposing himself to teenage girls and propositioning hotel maids and guests. Captain Hatem Rushdy, the chief of Egypt Air 767 groups who was a passenger on that flight that day, had told Batouti before take-off, “this is your last flight,” Captain Hamdy said. Batouti’s attitude was, “this is the last flight for you too.”
- Captain Hamdy’s revelations published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times came shortly before a final federal report into the crash is due to be published next week. The report concludes that the jumbo jet was deliberately crashed by the veteran co-pilot, aged 59, but stops short of giving reason for his act.
FAA Emergency Airworthiness Directive 27 January 2014
- We are issuing this AD to prevent continued operation with yielded or failed shear rivets in the elevator Power Control Actuator (PCA) bell crank assemblies and to prevent certain failures or jams in the elevator system from causing a hardover of the elevator surface resulting in a significant pitch upset and possible loss of control of the airplane.
- Failure of two (of the three) bell crank assemblies on one side can result in that single elevator surface (but not both surfaces) moving to a hardover position independent of pilot command resulting in a significant pitch upset recoverable by the crew.
- Failure of (all) three bell crank assemblies on one side can cause an elevator hardover that may result in loss of controllability of the airplane
FBI: The tragedy was neither a criminal nor terrorist incident
- The five Arabic-speaking members of the analysis group concur that they do not recognise this as an Arabic word, words, or phrase.
- The entire group agrees that three syllables are heard and the accent is on the second syllable. Four Arabic-speaking group members believe they heard words similar to “control it.”
- One English speaking member believes that he heard a word similar to “hydraulic.”
- The four other members believe that the word(s) were unintelligible.
Viviane Sacy Tannoury (translator)
- I think that the “suicide theory” lingered in the middle of the investigation team.
- We were aware of what was in the news and the papers about the case.
- So, the investigation was covered by the shadow of the suicide scenario.
- Although we didn’t talk about it explicitly, we all thought about it.
- We all tried to get a clue from the CVR.
- The recorders can be interpreted as both supporting and rejecting the theory.
- I think this theory took over the investigation.
- The unintelligible phrase: it was extremely difficult for the entire team to understand the phrase.
- So, we had a vote.
- Some heard “hydraulic” while others heard “control.”
- Before choosing, we had a vote on who heard it and who didn’t. In the end we wrote both of them in the transcript
- Plus, the number of people who heard “hydraulic” and who heard “control it.”
- The voice was so unintelligible that we couldn’t decide whether it came from the captain, the co-pilot or a third person. But it most likely came from the first two in the cockpit.
None of the mechanical failure modes examined during the investigation were consistent with the FDR data because:
- The FDR elevator positions did not displace (predicted by the failure mode and effects analysis during the initial pitch over and
- The elevator motions after the initial pitch over indicate that both surfaces wee functioning normally.
Through courtesy of: Al Jazeera.com
The action by First Officer Gamil al-Batouti in disconnecting the autopilot as a first step in diagnosing something if he had heard a sound or felt a tremor in the aircraft is not unusual and understandable. But as a former airline pilot, I would like to add the following: