Search to Resume for EgyptAir Debris

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2000

Nearly three months after investigators finished bringing up pieces of the shattered airplane that was EgyptAir Flight 990, a salvage ship will return to the crash site off the coast of Rhode Island this week to try to retrieve more wreckage.

The operation to recover the shattered pieces of the Boeing 767 was suspended in late December, with some 70 percent of the plane recovered. As safety investigators began writing a series of factual reports laying out the details of the Oct. 31 crash, the National Transportation Safety Board decided that more wreckage was needed.

Salvage crews will focus on recovering the remaining engine and pieces of the plane's flight control components, such as the flaps on the wings that help steer and the elevators on the tail that help control the plane's pitch. The search will take place in a previously identified debris field about 65 miles southeast of Nantucket Island. The elevators are particularly important in the investigation, NTSB officials said, since the flight data recorder shows that the mechanism was in a split position - possibly indicating that the pilot and the co-pilot were taking opposite actions.

Investigators say they aren't ready to analyze the facts or draw conclusions, but some experts say the scenario of the jumbo jet's sudden dive into the sea points to a deliberate act in the cockpit.

Forty minutes after taking off from Kennedy, the jet was cruising at 33,000 feet when it was suddenly put into a controlled dive far steeper than a normal emergency descent. Yet there were no warnings or mechanical problems to prompt such an action, investigators said. The flight data recorder shows that after the dive began, the person sitting in the co-pilot's seat was apparently pushing the plane's elevator to point the plane's nose down, while the person in the captain's seat was trying to bring the nose up. Data also indicate that as the engines were shut down, the throttles were advanced to speed up the plane - which could also indicate two people in the cockpit taking opposite actions.

The NTSB at one point appeared poised to turn over the investigation to the FBI, which would be the lead agency in the case of a criminal act. But after protests from the Egyptian government, the safety board has remained in control of the probe although the FBI is still involved.

Some debris recovered from the wreckage of EgyptAir 990 is being examined at the FBI lab in Washington.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

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