More than two years after it crashed, U.S. air safety investigators have concluded the co-pilot of EgyptAir Flight 990 deliberately caused the plane to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 217 people on board. Egypt refuses to accept the findings, saying more investigation is needed.
This exhaustive investigation has finally been brought to a close but its findings have not ended what continues to be debate over the cause.
The National Transportation Safety Board concludes the Boeing 767 was deliberately brought down about 30 minutes after taking off from New York bound for Cairo by relief pilot Gamil al-Batouti. Without mentioning a motive, the report says he cut power to engines, plunging the plane toward the sea and into a descent so steep that another pilot who rushed into the cockpit was unable to reverse it.
Since the start of the investigation, the Egyptian government, which owns the airline, has refused to accept evidence of sabotage, suggesting a pilot nearing retirement and flying a lucrative route would have no motive to commit suicide.
Jim Brokaw lost his father and stepmother in the crash. "It's clear to me that there is a powerful, cultural taboo against suicide and that the destruction of an aircraft by one of the crew members is a point of powerful national shame," he said.
The Egyptian government had no comment on this final report. But EgyptAir still believes more investigation is needed before the NTSB can draw conclusions, especially into what the airline believes could be possible problems with the plane's tail.
"The people from the NTSB that I've spoken with have said the Egyptians absolutely questioned every aspect of the investigation," he said. "They threw up every obstacle to bringing the investigation to a close. They forced the NTSB to go back out into the north Atlantic to recover parts of the wreckage that NTSB thought were wholly irrelevant to the cause of the crash. It seems to me clear that they knew that the NTSB's conclusion would be that the aircraft was deliberately destroyed."
More than 100 Americans died in the crash and the extensive investigation has led to strains in U.S./Egyptian relations, as well as a host of civil lawsuits. Even though EgyptAir refuses to accept the findings of this investigation, the airline has accepted liability and has begun reaching settlements with many of the families who lost relatives on the doomed flight.