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Probe into EgyptAir jet disaster

An official inspects debris scattered at the crash site  

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Egyptian and U.S. aviation experts have begun investigating how an EgyptAir Boeing 737 crashed into a hill in Tunis, killing 18 of the 62 people on board.

EgyptAir flight 843 from Cairo nearly split into two after ramming into a hill about six kilometres (four miles) from the Tunis-Carthage airport in Tunisia on Tuesday. Twenty five people were also injured.

It had been foggy and raining at the time of the crash and sandstorms from the Sahara Desert were blowing in when the control tower lost contact with the plane a few seconds before it went down, just after a distress call from the pilot.

A Tunisian woman, Narjess Hadada, told The Associated Press the plane hit turbulence as it prepared to land.

"We felt jolts in the plane, and a member of the crew reassured us that it was only clouds. Suddenly, we saw sparks in the plane and then it hit the ground," she said.

Hadada grabbed her two children and dashed out of the plane through a huge gaping hole left by the crash. "I feel like I've been born a second time," she said.

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The Boeing 737-500's landing gear had failed to open during its approach and the pilot had made another circuit before attempting a fresh landing when the plane crashed, airport officials said.

But EgyptAir's vice president for safety, Shaker Qilada, has denied reports that the plane was making an emergency landing, saying: "It was a normal landing approach."

Other witnesses said the pilot released fuel shortly before the plane went down, a move that may have saved lives by preventing the wreckage from catching on fire.

The incident came within hours of a separate air disaster in which a China Northern Airlines plane with 112 people on board crashed into the sea off the coast of the city of Dalian in Liaoning province. (Full story)

Survivor Mohammed Amin Abdelaziz, an Egyptian chief steward for EgyptAir  

The EgyptAir pilot survived, but the co-pilot and several other crew members died, said Mahdi Fattallah, the Egyptian ambassador in Tunis.

The aircraft came to rest on a remote, hilly area in Nahli, in the northern part of the capital.

Blankets were used to cover the dead, surrounded by luggage and personal belongings strewn among the rocks and bushes. A bunch of plastic flowers protruded intact from a woman's bag.

Speaking at Ariana Hospital in Tunis, where he was being treated for minor injuries, head flight attendant Mohamed Amine told AP he believed "bad weather and bad visibility" were at the root of the accident.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday its team of investigators assisting in the investigation include NTSB officials and others from the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and General Electric Engines.

The incident is the second disaster to hit EgyptAir in the past three years. An EgyptAir Boeing 767 aircraft crashed off the coast of Massachusetts on October 31, 1999, killing all 217 aboard.

The NTSB recently blamed the crash on the actions of the co-pilot, but it stopped short of saying Gameel Al-Batouti intentionally crashed the plane in a suicide mission, as had widely been speculated.

EgyptAir has 24 Airbus aircraft and 19 Boeing aircraft.

The Boeing 737 is the most widely used aircraft in the world. The 737-500 series was launched in May 1987.




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