EGYPT AIR 990

31 OCTOBER, 1999

Egypt Air Flight 990 disappeared off the radar scopes mysteriously in the early morning of 31 October, 1999. At dawn, sufficient debris was quickly located to allow an expeditious search for the remains of the aircraft, along with its voice and data recorders. After a valiant effort by the Navy recovery team, the infamous "black boxes" were recovered. Their contents came as a shock to the world. The data strongly suggested that the relief copilot, Gamil, El Batouiti, had devised a suicide plan involving the sabotage of his aircraft, with the death of all on board.

Quickly, the NTSB announced the core of its preliminary conclusions to the astonishment of the world, particularly the Egyptian and Muslim communities.

However unpleasant, with no offense intended toward anyone, it is necessary to appreciate the possibility that Batouti did commit murder/suicide. Assuming any measure of accuracy in the hotel reports on Batouti, it is not inconceivable that he at least believed that he was returning to Egypt in disgrace and would soon be fired. The cockpit recordings tell us that there had been some discussion of the company termination politics with the captain, on the fatal flight. Additionally, the chief pilot for EgyptAir was also on the flight, presumably having discussed Batouti with the hotel management. It was a foregone conclusion that he would have reported his findings to the EgyptAir management upon arrival.

While Batouti was shown to be happy with his family, it is not a stretch of credibility to assume that he was sufficiently 'compartmentalized'd that he could have been happy uniquely in that environment. Despite cultural norms, Batouti would have been no less human than anyone. Middle East terrorism defies the idea that suicide is an impossibility in the Muslim community. Further, his daughter was suffering from Lupus and was being treated in the U.S., at primarily Batouti's expense. His wages and status in Egypt did not compare to the American medical costs. His resources and retirement would have been meager, by U.S. standards. Thus there is added reason to believe that he could have been suffering, however secretly, from long-term depression. Unfortunately, most pertinent facts are not likely to be disclosed in this arena, including the details of his contract with EgyptAir (and termination conditions), pension and insurance details.

The possibility of terrorism is at least worth questioning, as Osama Bin Laden was known to have been heavily funded in the months immediately preceding the crash of EA-990.

The discussion which follows is not intended to assign blame, but to endeavor to learn from the horrible legacy of this flight; somewhere, that legacy exists. This material contains an invitation to question history, in terms of the question, "Could this tragedy have been prevented?" Somewhere, the answer is "Yes." The challenge is to isolate the probable truth.

It is rare for accidents to occur as a legitimate surprise. Any reputable investigator will admit that in an extremely high percentage of cases, all the ingredients necessary for the event were present, prior to the crew approaching the aircraft. As the hard facts materialize in this event, it is naive to think this tragedy is among the exceptions.

This presentation is a summary of probable events. For the purposes of brevity, the early events of the flight are not addressed in detail. The following account of the EA-990 crash attempts to describe the events in a manner which is easy to comprehend -

At 0139:51 EST, the cockpit door opens; relief pilot, Gamil Batouti, enters (he is actually not scheduled to relieve the first officer, Adel, until much later in the flight). Batouti insists that he assume the F/O seat early, as opposed to his normal 'shift.' His manner is authoritative and insistent. Batouti briefly leaves cockpit, presumably to get his flight kit or personal effects from the cabin. At 0141:44 Batouti re-enters cockpit, taking the right seat (Adel gathers up his possessions, dropping some).

Following Adel's departure, a discussion on airline internal politics, ensues. The recorder data seems to indicate either a 'convenient' power interruption or the diplomatic concealment of EgyptAir internal politics by the NTSB. It is likely that EgyptAir made a successful plea to NTSB to expunge that section, however unorthodox. In support of that position is the quotation of Batouti as having made the statement, "I have made my decision," followed by a denial of the alleged statement against three government investigators who maintained that the statement was originally on the tape. The Washington Post and CNN both published the account.

At 0145:47, another dead-heading pilot enters the cockpit.

At 0146:11, a flight attendant enters asks for any orders, engages in some verbal banter, then the flight attendant leaves at 0146:18.

At 0146:56, the captain motors his seat back as a prelude to leaving the cockpit. However, his departure is briefly delayed in order to answer a radio call at 0147:19.

At 0147:08, the assigned copilot, Adel, leaves the cockpit.

At 0147:34, another person enters cockpit, presumably a flight attendant.

At 0147:55, as the captain is evidently getting ready to go aft, Batouti is probably anxious to get rid of the third (unknown) person. "Look here's the new first officer's pen. Give it to him please." The other person answers, "Yeah." Batouti adds, "To make sure it doesn't get lost."

Batouti gave the "First Officer's pen" to the 3rd person in the cockpit immediately before Capt Habashi left and asked him to hand it to him (Adel) "to make sure it doesn't get lost". The timing is consistent with Captain Habashi making preparations to exit the cockpit. It is probable that Batouti was "clearing" the cockpit.

At 0148:03, the captain says, "..excuse me, Jimmy, while I take a quick trip to the toilet..."

0148:04 CAM [Sound similar to electric seat motor operating, heard only using digital filter]

0148:04 CAM [Sound of click {possible door solenoid unlocking}]

0148:05 CAM [Sounds similar to cockpit door operating ]

0148:08 CAM-2b "..go ahead please (go ahead please)."

0148:09 CAM [Sound of several clicks]

0148:10 CAM-1a "...before it gets crowded; while they are eating, and I'll be back to you."

At 0148:18.55, the captain exits cockpit into a much better lit aft cabin, with the meal service in progress. His eyes adjusting to the better lighting would probably play a role when he later re-entered the relatively dark cockpit.

Between 0148:22.70 and 0149:18.37, a series of thumps, faint muffled thumps and clicks are recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), starting 4 seconds after the captain's departure. These sounds may have been Batouti raising the arm-rest, operating the seat-belt release, flinging the straps aside and hurriedly exiting his seat. It is worth suspecting that he pulled the auxiliary Ram Air Turbine (RAT) control circuit breaker and the autopilot warning circuit breaker. These actions would logically have been done to ensure the time required to initiate the upcoming event; and to ensure that the auxiliary Ram Air Turbine (RAT) would not automatically (or manually) deploy, furnishing backup power, with the impending double-engine shut-down.

Assuming this to be the case (based on recorded data), there was no viable possibility of continued flight control, nor a successful air-start attempt. These actions took a total of 56 seconds (47 seconds after he spoke the unintelligible word, suggested by translators as, "...controls it," (believed to have been uttered at 0148:30.69 EST) as he examined the circuit breaker panels, identifying the RAT control circuit breaker; and very possibly the autopilot warning circuit breaker. The timing would be consistent for his seat exit, locating selected circuit breakers, pulling them; then resuming his seat and buckling in. Again, the recorded sounds suggest that these events commenced immediately after the captain departed the cockpit. His actions are accompanied by a continuing Arabic chant of, "I put my fate in the hands of God," as Batouti pushes the control yoke forward.

If Batouti pushed the yoke forward, manually disconnecting the autopilot, the auto-throttles would attempt to maintain the selected Mach speed, thus, the power was automatically retarded as the aircraft accelerated in the dive. It is interesting that, contrary to any pilots' reflex, he didn't apply forward trim; suggesting that his plan may have been quite complex.

The timing of Batouti's chanting and the lack of surprise on Batouti's part strongly suggest that the above scenario is factual. The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) parameters reflect no electrical or hydraulic power interruptions or change-overs, thus it must be presumed that the RAT was, in fact, disabled. Given the airspeed at the time of engine shutdown, it is possible that the RAT would have been torn from the aircraft, upon deployment. However, the FDR would have shown data, such as a hydraulic system loss, to mark the event.

At 0149:30.16, two faint thumps; and another louder are recorded.

At 0148:30.69 EST, a muffled expression is heard, believed to be, "..controls it."

At 0148:39.92, the first Arabic iteration of, "I put my fate in the hands of God" was "heard faintly," as Batouti was probably out of the seat pulling the circuit breakers (a faint muffled thump is recorded at 0148:53.10, indicating that his activity was relatively remote from the first officer's mike.

It should be noted that the NTSB tests show that circuit breakers pulled by hand cannot be readily determined by CVR recordings, as opposed to the distinct 'snap' of a breaker popping under electrical load.

At 0148:57.93, there is a series of clicks and thumps, lasting approximately 17 seconds; probably Batouti getting back into his seat and harness, pushing the arm-rest down (0149:18.30) and the final electric seat-motor operation at 0149:18.37. These actions were probably a planned event, as a prelude to manual flight, as he needed to be optimally positioned for the required hand-to-yoke mechanical advantage and the anticipated negative-G push-over).

At 0149:44.98, the autopilot is disengaged. Four thumps are heard (one loud, three faint).

While it has been suggested that these sounds indicate that Batouti donned his oxygen mask, there is no sound to confirm that (pneumatic harness inflation, for example), nor is Batouti's voice muffled.

At 0149:48.42, Batouti begins repeating the Arabic chant.

At approximately, 0149:52, with the autopilot disconnected, the aircraft b egins the pitch-over and the throttles are retarded (manually or by the auto-throttles). While there is some slight deviation, the heading remains relatively constant, indicating manual control. It should be noted that there are no indications of surprise, nor any corrective action on Batouti's part.

The autopilot is disconnected with no audio alert; the aircraft pitches into a relatively abrupt dive - 40 degrees, nose down, with a relatively steady heading. There is no suggestion of any surprise, bewilderment or corrective action until after the captain grapples his way back to his seat; attempting a recovery with any leverage he could muster.

The lack of an autopilot audio alert on the CVR transcript requires particular attention. Normally, if the autopilot disconnects automatically, the aural warning system sounds a continuous disconnect warning; while the Master Caution annunciator light flashes. The aural warning will continue until cancelled by pressing any of the manual disengage buttons.

When the autopilot is disconnected manually, the warning system sounds when the disconnect button is pressed; continuing until the disconnect button is pressed a second time. In normal practice, if the button is pressed twice in quick succession, the aural warning will only sound a single burst when the disconnect button is pressed. In any case, a loud warning can be expected. The CVR transcript suggests that the warning system was either defective or disabled.

There is no viable suggestion of defects in the autopilot and warning systems of the aircraft. The absence of dialogue is particularly damning as to this possibility. In any reasonable condition, the copilot should have been uttering expletives or questions, if not calling for the captain. Certainly, the captain's forceful, later, interrogatory, "..what's happening," should have brought an impassioned and loud response.

The most damning evidence is that the actions and reactions of the F/O are totally inconsistent with reasonably expected responses. Notably he did not express any surprise nor did he respond to the captain's clear, unambiguous and concise challenges - in an apparent terrifying emergency.

The 40 degree pitch-down put the aircraft into a negative 1.7 G dive. During the zeroing of the negative G loading, the captain manages to re-enter the cockpit, asking, "...what's happening?" Not once, but three times - no response from the copilot.

If there was any intent to resolve an emergency, the first officer would have been involved in a dialogue with the captain. He might have also at least attempted to start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) for a minimum effort toward maintaining pressurization.

The FDR indicates a small but significant movement of the elevator immediately after the autopilot disconnect, consistent with a normal autopilot release. The key evidence is in the relatively constant altitude and heading immediately after the disconnect, as the effect of the thin air at the cruise altitude is conducive to an immediate significant pitch and roll 'wandering,' without immediate manual control being applied.

The hydraulics could not have failed, nor have been manually turned off on the overhead panel, as control inputs were active until the end of the data recording, presumably until the loss of airspeed.

The initial throttle movement recorded on the FDR is the consistent with either manual or auto-throttle power reduction, with the nose-down pitch. Given that the auto-throttles would have been attempting to maintain the last commanded speed, they would have automatically retarded. With no initial FDR indication of disconnect, that is the most probable case. In the typical practice of manually closing the throttles, a distinct 'clunk' can be heard; thus, auto-throttle action is most probable.

0149:52.98 EST - The NTSB elevator data, previously recorded at approximately neutral values, indicated increasing nose-down values. The throttles are also reduced to idle. A period of approximately 12 - 20 seconds of zero-gravity begins.

After 0149:53.32, the recorded thumps were probably manuals, briefcases etc. (initially elevated by the negative-G push-over into the dive) landing onto the floor under the positive G load.

From 1:49:54.98 EST to 1:50:04.98 EST, the elevator positions were then recorded at approximately -3, nose -down.

0149:58.78 Four aural warning tones are recorded, from the engine low oil pressure, created during the negative G period. The NTSB data shows the elevators deflected further nose-down, from 0150:05.98 EST to 0150:15.98 EST, the recorded values were between -4 and -5. [no pitch trim activated]

At approximately 0150:06.37, the captain manages to re-enter the cockpit (approximately 11 seconds after the downward pitch is initiated - low to negative gravity), exclaiming, "What's happening? What's happening??" (Batouti continues his chant - no reply to the captain)

0150:07.11 Sounds of the captain hurriedly getting into his seat.

A valid question comes to mind when examining the possibility of the captain being able to regain entrance to the cockpit in a low-to-zero gravity condition. It can only be speculated that when the autopilot was first disengaged, the captain sensed that something was wrong and had already started back to the cockpit. In any case, it would have taken a desperate effort to regain his seat.

0150:08.20 The Master aural warning sounds (Mach warning).

0150:08.53 The captain again exclaims, "What's happening?" as he's resuming his seat.

At 0150:15.15, the captain again asks, "What's happening Gamil, what's happening? "

At 0150:16.98, the auto-throttles are disconnected.

At 0150:20.98, Batouti, presumably, actuates both fuel cut-offs. The elevator positions diverge, with greater deflection upward on the captain's side, compared with the downward deflection of the copilot's side. The degree of deflection suggests that the captain is able to temporarily apply a greater magnitude of force. The suggestion being that Batouti momentarily releases one hand to actuate the fuel cutoffs. Almost immediately, thereafter, the magnitude of elevator divergent deflection increases, conversely suggesting that Batouti again has both hands on his yoke.

Only with a pre-existing double-engine failure, is there a reason to turn off both fuel control switches; but only after coordination with the other pilot and the call for a checklist. The associated checklist commands the sequence of the igniters and thrust levers to first be set; then the start switches are cycled OFF; then back to the ON position.

At 0150:21.98, the captain commences with opposing elevator pull, countering Batouti's pushing force.

The split elevator commences only after the captain hurriedly resumes his seat without fastening his seat belt or motoring the seat forward. Thus, he was in a poor position to effectively intervene). In the relatively darkened cockpit, he probably failed to realize that the dive was caused and being "held" by Batouti (In the 'heat of battle,' the captain would not have been inclined to suspect that it was actually forward pressure being applied by Batouti, as opposed to a mechanical malfunction. It would have been appropriate for the captain to assume that Batouti was attending to the problem, not causing it. The reality would not be readily distinguished by a rapid glance, that Batouti wasn't attempting to recover by applying back-pressure). Batouti continued his Arabic chant, failing to acknowledge the captain's comments addressed directly to him.

Batouti's silence was probably a function of last-minute concentration / introspection, as opposed to a deliberate intent to keep the CVR clear of incriminating evidence. If he had wanted to conceal evidence, the recorder circuit breakers would probably have been pulled. In all likelihood, Batouti didn't anticipate the wreckage being recovered, assuming extremely deep ocean water below.

At 0150:21.98, the data shows the right throttle being advanced with a brief spike in engine parameters.

0150:23.98 In all probability, Batouti, advanced both throttles; draining the Fuel Control Units to prevent a timely re-light. At this stage, there is simply no practical requirement to apply power; the aircraft is already over the Mach limit.

The throttle advance is followed immediately by the captain's realization and surprise - at 0150:24.92 The captain exclaims, "What is this? What is this? Did you shut (off) the engines? "

In a relatively darkened cockpit, the captain (first having no indication of Batouti's possible involvement) belatedly queries Batouti as to whether or not he shut off the engines (actually occurring at 0150:21). This inquiry occurred as Batouti relaxed; then suddenly released the elevator forward-pressure. The release on the yoke suddenly permitted Captain Habashi's back-pressure to pull the aircraft into a steep climb. With the trim unchanged from level flight, the trim forces would have radically facilitated the pitch-up. The G-load certainly served Batouti's effort in that anyone coming forward would have been pinned to the floor and possibly sustained serious injury under the 2.42 G load.

At 0150:25:00, the airflow noise changes as the speedbrakes begin to deploy. It is worth noting that at 0150:25.98, the speedbrake deployment occurred 4 seconds before the maximum elevator split was recorded. At the given airspeed, there would have been little actual deployment, due to the 'blow-down' effect from the airspeed. This was probably only a desperate act by the captain. Either the captain or the copilot extended the speedbrakes. This was probably a bewildered but desperate act by the captain. Given the normal control column / aileron hydraulic pressure demand, it's unlikely that this was done by Batouti to exhaust the remaining hydraulic pressure.

At 0150:26.55, the captain exclaims, "Get away in [from?] the engines!" (After possibly observing Batouti shutting off the engines or possibly advancing the throttles.) The captain probably observes Batouti's hand either on the throttles or near the fuel shut-offs (actuated 3 seconds before). However, it is far too late, as recovery would have required miraculous coordination in the case of a functional crew. It's probable that the intent of the comment was, "Get away FROM the engines!"

At 0150:28.85, the captain accusingly exclaims, "(You) shut the engines!"

At 0150:29.56, Batouti gives his only recorded response to the captain, "It's shut" (The fuel cut-offs had been actuated 9 seconds before.)

With the engines decelerating, the cabin altitude would also have been increasing, ultimately depressurizing completely. This would have added the factor of hypoxia during the last climb, potentially incapacitating any person trying to reach the cockpit.

Pandemonium may be presumed in the aft cabin as the result of flying service carts and associated items, in addition to any crew members or passengers - or personal belongings - not secured. The effect of the deck-angle (40 degrees down) would have added to the chaos as normal gravity returned. As soon as the cabin pressurization reached 14,00 feet, the passenger oxygen masks would have deployed. One can only imagine the screams of terror.

At 0150:21.35, the captain begins his last desperate pleas, "Pull with me" (Repeated four times until loss of electric power ends the recording.)

The Captain's pleas, "Pull with me," may or may not indicate his realization that Batouti was opposing him (perhaps a desperate and rhetorical final plea in the realization of having seen the engines deliberately shutdown).

0150:35.98 The last data records the aircraft parameters - 458 knots (approximately Mach .95), 16,416 feet, increasing through 2.421Gs, nose 7.5 degrees below the horizon; pitching up, rapidly.

During the dive, the FDR records abnormal aileron movement. The outboard ailerons both deflect upward by approximately 10 degrees between 0150:15 and 0150:25. By 0150:28, the recorded positions suggest the bleed-off of hydraulic pressure (as the engines spool down), unlocking them, allowing them to temporarily move roughly in concert with the inboard ailerons. The outboard aileron position changes occurring up to 0150:25 were probably due to the forward-aft movement of the Mach shockwaves, forward and aft of the aileron hinge-points. It must be expected that the upper and lower surface shock waves would be moving independently of each other, very possibly causing the aileron motion.

The movement of the outboard ailerons could have caused severe aero-elastic torsioning of the outer wing panels, potentially causing severe damage, particularly in light of the G load known to have been pulled. Given that the later aileron deflection recordings are coincident with the relative motion of the inboard ailerons, it is more probable that the ailerons were in fact moving. Nearly coincident with a diminishing reduction in elevator position divergence, the ailerons again appear to be affected by the lock-out mechanism, but remain deflected upward.

Although a case has been presented, asserting a mechanical failure history, related to the elevator controls, the mechanical problem in question would not have expressed itself with full hydraulic power capability and the supporting indications. Certainly, there would have been some sort of verbiage on the CVR in the form of surprise or astonishment.

The elevator system on the B-767-300 is a complex design, including multiple path redundancy.

Two control cable paths operate the elevators. The captain's column is connected to the left-aft quadrant by cables passing below the cabin floor, while the first officer's column is connected to the aft quadrant by cables passing below the cockpit floor, up inside the cockpit aft bulkhead wall; then rearward to the right-aft quadrant above the ceiling. This routing evades the consequences of a single failure such as a floor collapse, emulating the DC-10 accident in Paris. The two control cable runs are normally connected by a common control yoke torque tube, equipped with an override break-out mechanism, located between the two pilot control columns. An aft quadrant interconnect rod connects the two aft quadrants, utilizing a spring-loaded override mechanism at each quadrant.

The two elevators are designed to split up to a maximum of 20 degrees. While the data does not suggest that they split to that maximum, the control opposition is obvious.

Although Boeing issued an Alert Service Bulletin to inspect the Elevator Input Bellcrank shear rivets within 30 days, the condition in the bulletin is inconsistent with the control deflections shown on the EA-990 FDR data. If the ASB conditions were present, one elevator would have been faired, as opposed to both elevators being distinctly deflected by 3,000 PSI, applied to the actuators.

Given the primary downward displaced condition of the elevators; and the consistent split in the deflected state of the elevators, there should be little doubt as to two pilots operating the controls in opposition to each other. Without an extreme of strength applied to both sides, each elevator would not be expected move to the design limit of split-travel.

The final moments of EA-990 were recorded by ground radar data, indicating that the aircraft climbed to an altitude of approximately 24,000 feet, then pitched over to its final plunge, breaking up at approximately 10,000 feet.

Immediately, one has to ponder the cause of the mid-air breakup, the aircraft having survived the violence of the original pitch-over, then the pitch-up. In the absence of further data, it can only be speculated that the breakup, observed by radar, was one or both engines breaking off. Such a breakup is otherwise difficult to explain.

The aircraft would have been almost totally without power of any kind, at the peak of the pitch-up, depending exclusively on the emergency battery power. The cabin and cockpit would have been illuminated by the automatic emergency lighting. It can be reasonably anticipated that the aircraft stalled, almost free-falling for several thousand feet, before any significant aerodynamic forces were restored.

With the aircraft trimmed for cruise flight, the pitch would have been relatively nose-up. Given the instability of the aircraft, there is a high likelihood that the aircraft would have developed a spiral during the last moments of flight, possibly turning violent. Given the probable outboard fuel load distribution, a flat-spin cannot be ruled out; possibly inverted.

As the aircraft accelerated in the final descent, sufficient airspeed should have been gained to restore some hydraulic pressure. However, it is highly questionable as to whether or not the normal electric power would have been restored. The lack of transponder returns, suggests that it was not restored. With normal electric power gone, the crew would only have had the standby horizon to fly with, which is a considerable feat under the best of conditions, due to it's relatively distant location to the side of the captain's normal flight instruments; another politically controlled design flaw.

In the absence of pressurization, there would have also been some effects of hypoxia, aggravated by the stress of the situation. Thus, the ability of a final human intervention recovery effort is questionable. By this time vertigo would have been almost a certainty, as well.

Although the NTSB has a history of delivering politically convenient and palatable reports, the timing and presentation of information was sufficiently rapid, that it is not likely that EA-990 is such a case, with respect to the core details. Historically, NTSB reports have often been questioned. However, the questions are typically a function of sloppiness on the part of the NTSB. Such does not appear to be the case in this event.

The issue of Batouti's first spoken phrase, "I have made my decision now," is worth looking at with respect to the surrounding politics.

1. The phrase is quoted by both the Washington Post and CNN on 18 November, 1999; both papers being highly responsible media elements.

2. The phrase abruptly gets official denial, despite government officials insisting that it was originally on the tape, although acknowledging that the phrase was 'hotly disputed.'

3. Certain other politically sensitive details are obscured.

4. The one phrase probably made the difference between investigative jurisdiction, NTSB or FBI.

5. In a fashion reminiscent of Pan Am 103, Osama Bin Laden was known to have recently received heavy funding, highly suggestive of an impending terrorist action. Given the 1995-1996 history of aircraft being targeted in an operation known as "Bojinka," warnings should have been issued to travelers - they were not. Hence, the same PA-103 political elements, including the inept FAA airport security section, were not only embarrassed, but demonstrated to be inept to an unacceptable extreme. This fact is supported by a Government Accounting Office report released in the summer of 2000. The report to Congress documented not only the FAA failures in airport security, but their distortions of data in an attempt to make themselves look good.

6. While officials denied there were any indications or suspicions of terrorism surrounding EA-990, two weeks later, impending terrorism abruptly became the topic of the day.

We can only wait for the NTSB final report.

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