Egypt’s long history of air-disaster denial

Dorian Geiger writes: “I rely on God.”

That’s what Gameel Al-Batouti, the co-pilot of EgyptAir Flight 990, repeated — 11 times in Arabic — before the aircraft he was operating mysteriously plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Massachusetts on Oct. 31, 1999.

That audio, captured by the recovered flight recorder, was a key piece of evidence for U.S. authorities and the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB), which concluded that Al-Batouti was suicidal and had purposefully brought the airliner down while the first officer was out of the cockpit. The Egyptian Civil Aviation Agency was adamant, however, that mechanical error was to blame and dismissed the NTSB investigation as “flawed and biased.” Egypt still officially denies that Al-Batouti committed suicide.

Now Egypt is once again under scrutiny to deliver answers in the disappearance of EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean with 66 people on board on May 19. This time, in contrast to past air disasters, the Egyptian government initially suggested that it was terrorism, even though the exact cause of the crash remains unclear and no terrorist group has claimed responsibility. As it has done previously, Cairo appears to want to deflect blame onto other countries. A terrorist attack would reflect poorly on France’s airport security, whereas a technical issue with the plane would leave EgyptAir to blame. But Egyptian officials later walked that suggestion back and disputed reports that the small size of the body parts found indicated that a large explosion had brought down the plane.

The equivocation from Cairo was a reminder anyone expecting to get to the bottom of the tragedy should reflect on Egypt’s lack of transparency in previous investigations. “There has been a very checkered past in terms of Egyptian openness,” says says Adam Schiff, a California Congressman and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has long criticized Egypt’s lack of cooperation in international investigations. “They have not always been open and forthcoming with the investigation results and often have sought to control access to wreckage and the flow of information during the course of the investigation.” [Continue reading…]

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