NTSB: Last seconds of data pulled from EgyptAir flight recorder
Cockpit voice recording disputed
November 18, 1999
From staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Officials at the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday they have completed their readout of the last three to four seconds of information from EgyptAir Flight 990's flight data recorder and it indicates a struggle for control of the plane.
The final readout shows the plane's elevators -- two flap- like devices on the aircraft's tail used to control up and down flight -- were almost back to a normal, unsplit condition when the flight data recorder stopped, the sources said.
Earlier in the descent, the recorder had shown the elevators moving in opposite directions.
At this earlier point in the flight, the controls at the pilot's seat were set for a nose-up position while the controls at the co-pilot's seat were set for a nose-down position, officials said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether a member of the crew was pulling on the controls while the other was pushing, a situation that could cause the elevators to go in opposite directions.
The pilot had left the cockpit earlier, according to government sources. But it is unclear who was still in the cockpit. The pilot apparently came back and is heard asking, "What's going on?" the sources said. A short time later, what is thought to be the pilot's voice is heard saying, "Pull with me. Pull with me."
Fourteen seconds after the elevator was moved into the nosedown position, the data recorder indicates the Boeing 767 reached a speed of Mach 0.86 and the plane's master warning sounded.
Thirteen seconds later, the engines cut off. Fourteen seconds after that, the so-called black boxes and transponder shut off.
The flight recorder data also show that the speedbreak, a device used to slow the plane, was deployed as the captain apparently tried to recover from the dive.
When the data on the recorder ended, the plane's nose was up and its speed was about 650 mph -- likely resulting in the zoom up to the altitude of 24,000 feet recorded by U.S. Air Force radar.
But with the engines turned off and the jet probably damaged by the near supersonic plunge, the aircraft was not able to fully recover and plummeted into the ocean.
Sources agree that backup co-pilot Gameel el-Batouty's voice is heard on the cockpit voice recorder making reference to God -- just before the auto pilot was turned off and the plane started its fatal dive.
Earlier Wednesday, senior government sources said one phrase on the cockpit voice recorder is: "I have made my decision now," followed by the phrase "I put my faith in the hands of God."
After CNN reported that, other senior government sources involved with the investigation stated the "decision" line is not on the tape.
The original sources, contacted again, said they stand by their interpretation but acknowledged that translations of the tape have been hotly disputed.
U.S. linguists, officials said, also disagree over how to interpret the words on the tape and what significance to give them -- whether the remark "Tawakilt ala Allah," translated as "I put my faith in the hands of God," is significant to the cause of the crash or not.
Dr. Maher Hathout, the imam who presided over a prayer service for el-Batouty at the Islamic Center in Los Angeles, said, "We Muslims say that statement umpteen times a day, particularly in times of danger."
"This is our gate to Islam to say these words, and we'd like it to be the last words we say in our lives," Hathout said. "This means that the person is religiously conscious and if he is so, he will never commit suicide because suicide is a major sin in Islam."
Hathout, whose cousin and in-law were killed in the crash, said he last spoke with el-Batouty about three months ago and added that the pilot never came across as someone who would "do anything crazy."
The language and cultural barriers reflect the difficulties investigators are facing as they try to interpret this tape, and officials say it's one reason why the Egyptian government is sending more analysts to Washington.
If the FBI takes the lead in the crash investigation as expected, officials of the Egyptian government will be included in the investigation team, two law enforcement sources said.
Investigators are working on the assumption that el-Batouty was alone in the cockpit just before the plane began its fatal dive. But they are checking to see if other sounds on the tape indicate the presence of anyone else.
Investigators are also looking at the other crew members, including Capt. Ahmed al-Habashy , Capt. Raouf Noureldin, and co-pilot Adel Anwar, but the focus of the investigation shifted to el-Batouty amid indications that he was at the controls just before the plane crashed into the Atlantic.
El-Batouty has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the EgyptAir crash probe.
In Cairo, members of el-Batouty's family described him as a "happy man," and asserted that if his voice is heard on the cockpit voice recorder it is because he had been called to help.
Walid el-Batouty, a nephew of the backup pilot, said his uncle was a man who "loved to fly" and "loved his family." He said he knew of no reason his uncle would have been upset and said if el-Batouty's voice is heard on the tape, then "definitely they called him for help."
In response to media reports that his uncle might have been depressed at not having made full pilot before his impending retirement, Walid el-Batouty said his uncle was very proud of his record as a pilot, including being an instructor for the Egyptian air force.
"He was a joker," said Walid el-Batouty, "always laughing." He said his uncle, who was 59 years old, was not on his final scheduled flight.
Walid el-Batouty confirmed that his uncle's 11-year-old daughter suffers from lupus and was being treated in the United States.
A relative in Los Angeles said Aya el-Batouti was diagnosed in Egpyt with lupus, an incurable immune system disease that can, in rare cases, be life threatening.
Dr. Mohsen Himza, a neurologist in Los Angeles who is married to el-Batouty's niece, said the girl was brought to UCLA for a "second opinion" -- and had been treated at the institution as recently as September. She was seen on an outpatient basis, he said.
Himza said the girl is back in Cairo with her family and was reportedly doing very well in school.
"She was everything to him," el-Batouty's brother-in-law, Essam Dahi, said of the co-pilot's relationship with his daughter.
Dahi also said el-Batouty was "a man of experience, honor and, most importantly, faith." He was Muslim, and it is strictly against his faith to commit suicide, something relatives referred to amid suggestions el-Batouty might be responsible for the crash.
Hathout described the veteran pilot as a "pious, quiet guy" and rejected the notion that el-Batouty took the plane on a suicide plunge.
"I think it is cruel, I think it is an insult to the family, and I think it is very insulting to his soul, especially if he's innocent," the imam said.
El-Batouty attended the Islamic Center where Hathout presided for at least the last six years while on stopovers in Los Angeles.
Himza disputed any notion that el-Batouty was having financial difficulties -- saying he was "well-to-do."
Walid el-Batouty said el-Batouty had the regular life and medical insurance supplied by EgyptAir to all its pilots.
U.S. officials said they have no indication terrorism was involved in the crash.
EgyptAir Flight 990 went down October 31 shortly after takeoff from New York on a nonstop flight to Cairo. All 217 people aboard died when the jet fell to the ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.
NTSB to keep control of EgyptAir probe for now
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