EgyptAir Flight 990 Remote Viewing Project - Related News
Tuesday November 16 12:33 AM ET
EgyptAir Crash May Become Criminal Probe
By Tim Dobbyn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accident investigators conceded Monday for the first time they might have to surrender leadership of the EgyptAir Flight 990 probe, which under U.S. rules would happen only if the deadly crash was the result of a crime.
``We are concentrating our efforts on determining from the evidence, including the cockpit voice recorder, whether or not this investigation is to remain under the leadership of the National Transportation Safety Board,'' NTSB Chairman Jim Hall told a news conference.
ABC News reported that during one portion of the tape the pilot left the cockpit and the co-pilot was overheard saying something of a religious nature in Arabic about going into death.
CNN reported that Hall discussed handing over investigative responsibility for the crash in a meeting Monday with FBI Director Louis Freeh.
Federal officials said the FBI was looking into whether to take the lead role, but the FBI was unable to confirm a meeting with Hall took place. The NTSB was unavailable for comment.
Investigators hope the cockpit voice recorder will answer their many questions about the puzzling Oct. 31 crash off the Massachusetts coast that killed all 217 on board.
Hall declined to divulge any new information from the cockpit voice recorder although he said the quality of the tape was excellent and he was confident answers would be obtained.
In a statement Sunday, Hall said no conclusions could be drawn from an initial review of the voice recorder. Published reports Monday quoted investigation sources as saying there was no indication the pilots were fighting each other or that someone entered the cockpit and caused the crash.
Many Rumors And Theories
Although the FBI began conducting interviews and following tips the day of the crash it has publicly said it has had no clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
``I am well aware of the many rumors, theories and stories circulating in the last 72 hours -- indeed, in the last two weeks -- about potential causes of this tragedy,'' Hall said on Monday.
But the safety board chairman said the voice recorder required painstaking translation and comparison to the flight data recorder.
``Therefore, I am not prepared to answer questions on the contents of the cockpit voice recorder,'' he said.
The flight data recorder from the Boeing 767 established that less than an hour into the flight from New York, the plane's automatic pilot was turned off, and the engines were throttled back before being shut down during its subsequent steep dive.
Several aviation experts said the information so far was extremely puzzling.
The decision to descend sharply and switch off the engines seemed quite deliberate, yet could not be easily explained by any particular scenario for mechanical difficulty.
If the dive from 33,000 feet was an effort to combat depressurization of the cabin, then the plane should have kept going to 10,000 feet rather than start climbing again at 16,700, the experts said.
``This one is a real baffler,'' said a 767 pilot with a major airline. ``It's not a mechanical cause to my mind,'' he said. ``Somebody interfered with the crew.''
Chris Yates, editor of Jane's Airport Security, said the lack of answers from the data recorders suggested investigators might have to acknowledge the possibility of sabotage.
FBI Took Early TWA 800 Lead
The safety board has responsibility for investigating all air crashes, but law enforcement agencies take the lead if criminal action becomes the leading theory.
After the 1996 explosion of a New York-to-Paris TWA jumbo jet, the FBI took the lead role due to early fears that a bomb or missile had killed the 230 people on board, though NTSB investigators eventually made a case that an explosion in the plane's center fuel tank caused the crash.
James Kallstrom, the former FBI assistant director who headed the bureau's TWA Flight 800 probe, said he believed Hall spoke on Monday because the recorder evidence did not point conclusively to either an accident or a criminal act.
``They (the NTSB) are just saying, 'Time Out. We don't know where this one is going,''' Kallstrom said.
At the EgyptAir crash site, 60 miles south of the island of Nantucket, the search for wreckage was suspended Monday due to rough seas.