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NTSB Releases Report on EgyptAir Flight 900 Crash

Aired August 11, 2000 - 11:20 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim hall about to come before the microphones there in Washington, D.C.

Just to let our viewers know, once again, we should get more results and more information about what happened on EgyptAir Flight 990 last October 31, when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Massachusetts.

We have been given some indication about what investigators believe may have happened onboard that plane, but with Jim Hall at the podium now, we hope to clarify a number of things this morning now.

Here's Mr. Hall, We'll listen.

JAMES HALL, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for coming this morning. With me today, to my left, is Dr. Bernard Loeb, the director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Office of Aviation Safety; to my right, the investigator in charge of this investigation, Mr. Greg Phillips, and Dr. Vern Ellingstad, director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Office of Research and Engineering.

On October 31, 1999, 217 individuals lost their lives when EgyptAir 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Our thoughts remain with the families of those who lost loved ones in this crash. Seven nationalities were represented on that plane: 100 were from the United States, 89 from Egypt, 21 from Canada, 3 from Syria, 2 from the Sudan, 1 from Germany, and 1 from Zimbabwe.

As many of you know, we dispatched our family affairs staff to Newport, Rhode Island, on the first day of the investigation, to coordinate the assistance effort for the families of the 217 victims. Following the crash, about 650 family members came to Rhode Island. We continue to be in contact with family members to keep them abreast of the progress of this investigation.

We are here this morning to report to the American people, to the Egyptian people and to the families of the victims, the status of our investigation and to open the public docket pertaining to the investigation of this crash.

By doing so, we are fulfilling our mandate to make public the factual information gathered to date and to provide the public with an accounting of the progress of the investigation. By statute, where there is a cockpit voice-recorder transcript, we open the docket, either as part of a public hearing, or when the majority of the factual reports are complete. In this instance, the board has determined there is no need for a public hearing.

The material being made public today contains factual reports from each of the investigative groups led by a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, groups such as operations, structure, systems and aircraft performance. Additional factual information may be entered into the docket as the investigation progresses.

I have here a complete set of the documents contained in the docket; 1,665 pages are being placed on our web site so that it is a available for anyone who wants to read it. These documents represent the hard work of investigators from the NTSB, Egypt and the parties: the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing Aircraft Company and Pratt & Whitney Engines. All total, at least 150 people have contributed so far.

It is important to note that only factual information is being released today. The Egyptian authorities have reviewed all the material contained in the docket. Where they have disagreements, they have been given the opportunity to submit those disagreements in writing, and that material is also included in the docket that is being opened today.

There is no National Transportation Safety Board analysis in this material as to the cause of the crash. That analysis will be developed in the future and will be released by the board in its final report.

I would like to take a few moments reviewing events that have occurred since that tragic day last October. I'd like to refer to this flow chart on my left.

As you all know, EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767 extended-range aircraft, Egyptian registration number SUGAP, while on a scheduled flight from New York City to Cairo, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, in the early hours of October 31.

The crash occurred about 28 minutes after takeoff. The last contact with the airplane was about 3 minutes before the crash when air traffic control asked the crew to contact New York Center and a crew member acknowledged the clearance.

Because EgyptAir 990 was a non-U.S.-operated flight and crashed into international waters, international procedures, as outlined by Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, dictated that Egypt, as the state of registry, would be the investigative authority.

However, under the provisions of Annex 13, the government of Egypt delegated the investigation to the United States. As a result, the National Transportation Safety Board immediately assumed control of the investigation, and we have conducted this investigation under NTSB's rules and procedures.

The Egyptian government designated the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority as its accredited representative to this investigation. Representatives from the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, along with technical advisers from EgyptAir and other organizations, arrived on scene soon after the crash and have been involved throughout the entire investigative process.

Under ICAO (ph) rules, the operator, EgyptAir, serves as an adviser to the Egyptian government's accredited representative, rather than a party to the investigation.

The aircraft crashed into 200 -- approximately 250 feet of water. Following an extensive and thorough search and rescue operation by the United States Coast Guard, it became evident there were no survivors.

We then initiated what would become a 51-day initial search and recovery operation. The United States Navy, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration provided assets to locate and map the wreckage.

Two commercial vessels, the Carolyn Chouest and the Smit Pioneer, were contracted by the Navy's supervisor of salvage to assist in the recovery of the wreckage.

Safety board investigative and family affairs staffs, supported by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, were on board the ships to assist in the recovery operation.

The initial wreckage recovery activity was completed on December 21, 1999. Much of the aircraft, including one of the engines, was recovered. A second recovery effort, to retrieve the remaining engine, and additional flight control components, was completed on April 3, 2000. In total, approximately 90 percent of the aircraft, by weight, has been recovered.

During the last 286 days, the safety board's investigative team has conducted an extensive investigation, including numerous tests, simulations and examinations to help determine the cause of this crash.

Information on all of those efforts is included in the factual material being released today.

Among the factual reports is one prepared by the cockpit voice- recorder group. That group produced two transcripts of the cockpit voice-recorder tape. The first is a transcription of what was actually spoken, both the original English, which was used in radio transmissions, and the original Arabic.

The second is a translation of the Arabic into English. The translation was done by an NTSB-contracted interpreter, an FBI language specialist, two members of the Egyptian delegation and a State Department official, and it was agreed to and signed by all participants, including the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and EgyptAir.

HEMMER: Jim Hall speaking there in Washington, the latest report there on the NTSB, and they found about EgyptAir Flight 900 back in late October. Report that extends well over 1,000 page. Jim Hall indicating that only factual information will be released today. He also indicates Egyptian authorities have filed disagreements with the findings thus far, but have also been involved from the very beginning regarding this investigation.

Again, only factual information released today. A cause not given. That will be detailed, according to Jim Hall, in the final report. That is not released today, but may take anywhere from several weeks to several months before that, indeed, is issued to the public. Jim Hall live there from Washington.



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