|November 26, 1999|
|Alternative Theories Emerge for EgyptAir 990 Crash|
|After 10 days of Muslim bashing—following the Washington Post’s
November 16 front page, above the fold headline which read: “Pilot
Prayed, Then Shut Off Jets Autopilot”—alternative theories have be-
gun to emerge for the October 31 crash of EgyptAir 990.
That evening, following the Washington Post’s lead, relief pilot Gameel
el-Batouty’s prayer, identified as the shahadah—there is no god but God,
Muhammad is the Messenger of God—appeared on television screens
with the clear implication that the utterance of this short prayer indi-
cated a deliberate act of suicide and murder.
But the very next day, November 17, ABC’s Washington affiliate
stated that the pilot had said, “I have made my decision. Now I put my
faith in God’s hands.” It is not clear whether the pilot also uttered the
shahadah, or whether his utterance was incorrectly reported yesterday.
The National Transportation Safety Board advisory released No-
vember 17 indicated that the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) working
group expected to have a transcript completed next week.
The flight data recorder (FDR) showed that the Boeing 767-300
pitch attitude moved from 40 degrees nose down to 10 degrees nose
down. The speed brake handle moved from the stowed position to the
deployed position. The last altitude registered was about 16,400 feet, at
which time the aircraft was traveling at 574 knots.
The elevator split, which had previously been reported, was further
defined by the FDR group. During the last 15 seconds, maximum split
between the elevators was about 7 degrees and appeared to be lessening.
While the aircraft was at 33,000 feet, the autopilot cut off. Eight
seconds later, the elevator moved into the nose down position, and the
throttle was pulled back. Fourteen seconds after the nose down move-
ment began, the aircraft reached Mach 0.86 and the master warning
sounded. Thirteen seconds later, the engine start lever went to the “off ”
position. Fourteen seconds after that, the FDR, CVR and transponder
shut off. From autopilot cutoff to end of data was about 50 seconds.
However, the lack of necessary facts did not deter U.S. media specu-
|The War on Islam—141|
|The media consensus seemed to be that the pilot was depressed
because he had been passed over for promotion, he had financial prob-
lems because of his child’s health condition, and this drove him to crash
the plane into the Atlantic.
These theories were challenged by his family who claimed that the
pilot was financially well off, and they took television crews on a tour of
the home Mr. Batouty had built for his upcoming retirement.
Still for the past ten days the recitation of an Islamic prayer, repeat-
edly mentioned by the media, confirmed for them the pilot’s state of
mind. Newsweek magazine based its cover story on the assertion that
the pilot recited “Tawakilt ala allah” (I put my trust in God) 14 times.
Now doubts about who said what, and other theories have begun to
The London based Independent reported on November 20 (Andrew
Marshall, “Doubt Cast on Suicide Theory for Air Crash”):
|The American theory turns on a few facts whose interpretation is
disputed. The cockpit voice recorders apparently show that the
aircraft’s captain, Ahmed al-Habashi, left the flight deck, leaving
the relief copilot, Gamil al-Batouti, at the controls. He had been
reported to have said “I made my decision now,” before repeating a
Muslim prayer variously translated as “I put my faith in God’s hands”
or “I depend on God.”
|“But yesterday,” said the Independent, “an unnamed official told
news agencies that Mr. Batouti did not say ‘I made my decision now’
casting some doubt on the pilot suicide theory.”
The Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ (Michael Hedges, “Pilot Who Saved
Jet in ’79 Says: Be Wary Of Crash Probe Theories,” November 23)
described an event where a “Boeing jetliner had leveled off above 30,000
feet after leaving New York when, mysteriously, it began a steep and
terrifying descent, falling at speeds that briefly topped 800 mph.”
The Star-Ledger goes on to say,
|The aftermath of that incident two decades ago has caused [the
pilot Harvey “Hoot”] Gibson to be skeptical of quick explanations
for aircraft crashes, like the theory that EgyptAir Flight 990 was
downed October 31 by a suicidal pilot. . . . Gibson says he believes
his flight suffered from some sort of rudder failure, the cause in
later years of at least two airline crashes involving Boeing 737s. . . .
It was the same rudder on the 727 as the 737.
|On November 24, the Associated Press reported (“Egyptian Expert
Offers Blast Theory”) that “Gen. Issam Ahmed, head of the country’s
flight training program, urged Egyptian investigators to look closely at
what happened in the rear of the plane and not to let their U.S. coun-
terparts impose the suicide scenario.” Said the general, “The two pilots
took the right steps, including turning off the autopilot and the engines
in an attempt to control the plane.”
Today, November 26, Mr. Gibson and Gen. Issam Ahmed have
been joined by others challenging reckless media speculation.
The Washington Times reported today on its front page (“Austrians
Offer Malfunction Theory of EgyptAir Crash”) that the “crash of
EgyptAir Flight 990 might have been caused by a flight stabilizer break-
down that could have sent the plane plunging into the sea, an Austrian
institute said yesterday.”
The independent Austrian Institute of Aerospace Medicine and Space
Biology said, “The abnormal dive of the Boeing 767 could be due to a
so-called ‘stabilizer runaway.’ . . . The stabilizer runaway batters the
plane so strongly that the autopilot is insufficiently strong and it is au-
tomatically turned off on purpose in such a case.”
FOX News reported (“Airline Pilots’ Group Hits Out at EgyptAir
Probe”) that an “international airline pilots’ group Friday stepped into
the controversy over the probe into the EgyptAir flight 990 crash, de-
nouncing what it said was a media frenzy about suicide as a cause.”
Captain Ted Murphy of the International Federation of Airline Pi-
lots’ Associations told Reuters, “The big issue is the failure of the industry
to resist the temptation to talk. Authorities have to resist giving an an-
swer straight away.”
Faced with these emerging theories the Washington Post began back-
ing off from its earlier focus on the pilot’s prayer. The Post (David A.
Vise and Don Phillips, “No Letup For FBI In Probe Of Crash”) said:
“While his prayer in Arabic—I have put my faith in God’s hands—has
played a role in the probe, it is less significant, officials said, than the
actions he took in the cockpit.”
For now, all options should be kept open. Speculation on the basis
of a prayer uttered by the pilot is at the very least irresponsible.