Revenge for being taken off US flights for sexual misconduct?
The US investigators concluded the pilot crashed the aircraft deliberately; the Egyptian side disputed this. Video cameras in the cockpit would have made it possible to prove beyond doubt, in this case, and other contentious ones, that aircraft were crashed on purpose.
EgyptAir Flight 990, October 31, 1999
On board the Boeing 767 EgyptAir flight from New York to Cairo was EgyptAir’s chief 767 pilot, Hatem Rushdy. The night before he had told First Officer el Batouty, who was on board as number two in the relief crew due to take over midflight, that it was to be el-Batouty’s last flight on routes to the United States.
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper dated March 16, 2002, el-Batouty faced ruin following allegations of sexual misconduct, including exposing himself to teenage girls, propositioning hotel maids, and stalking female hotel guests. Flights to the US came with extra pay besides prestige, so his downgrading and loss of face would be obvious.
Having come from Los Angeles, the EgyptAir 767 lifted off at 1:20 a.m. EST from New York’s JFK Airport, where it had stopped to refuel and pick up passengers before continuing on to Cairo. There were 217 persons on board, including 14 crew, of which four were pilots in two groups—the primary crew and the relief crew.
In the half hour after takeoff, the aircraft climbed to its initial cruising height of thirty-three thousand feet, with flight attendants, and finally Hatem Rushdy, paying a visit to the cockpit. After Rushdy left, el-Batouty got up from his seat in the passenger cabin, where he was meant to be resting in readiness for taking over as copilot for the midpart of the flight, and entered the cockpit. He then pulled rank, intimating to the much younger primary copilot that they should swap shifts. The latter strongly objected, as it would complicate matters later in the flight and mean he could not rest as planned. Anyway, it was contrary to regulations.
Probably sensing el-Batouty’s single-minded determination, the primary captain, who was a personal friend, persuaded the younger primary copilot to cede to the older man’s demands. There then followed a routine exchange with the en route air traffic controller, Ann Brennan, who had eight years’ experience.
01:47 a.m. ATC:
EgyptAir Nine-ninety, change to my frequency one-two-five-point-niner-two.
Captain of EgyptAir 990:
Good day . . . [Pause while switching frequency.] . . . New York, EgyptAir nine zero heavy, good morning.
EgyptAir nine-ninety, roger.
Having confirmed they were on the right frequency, Brennan, with her headset still on, moved away from her monitor to deal with paperwork. When she looked again six minutes later, the echo indicating where EgyptAir 990 should be according to its flight plan was freewheeling, because the computers could find no correlation with its transponder. In vain she called them to get them to reset their transponder and tried to contact them through other aircraft and facilities, even asking an Air France aircraft in her zone to fly over them. With it becoming evident something had gone terribly wrong, she, in consultation with her supervisor, set search-and-rescue operations in motion.
The fact that Brennan had not been watching what happened to EgyptAir 990 did not make any difference other than to slightly delay the rescue, when there was no one to rescue, and what she would have seen was recorded anyway and not lost.
What had happened in those six minutes?