US stunned by latest air crash

214 feared dead as jet plunges into sea in third major crash off north-east coast in three years

A BOEING 767 plunged into the Atlantic near the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, killing all 214 people on board yesterday. The aeroplane, EgyptAir Flight 990, had taken off from Kennedy airport, New York, less than an hour earlier bound for Cairo.

This was the third disaster involving a big passenger jet in the area in as many years, and the second to befall a Boeing airliner. In all three crashes, the planes lost power too quickly for the planes to make even emergency landings.

Aviation officials in New York were quick to dampen speculation that a bomb was a likely cause, but disclosed there was a month-old threat that a bomb would "soon" be used on a flight departing from Los Angeles or New York. There was also a report that one passenger booked through to Cairo had left the aircraft at John F Kennedy airport, but this was not confirmed.

Early reports said that the plane fell from 33,000 feet after disappearing off radar screens at around 2am local time (7am GMT). An EgyptAir spokes- man said the pilot made one distress call before all contact was lost.

There were 199 passengers and 15 crew on the plane, 129 of them Americans and 62 Egyptians. The plane was on the final leg of a round-trip journey from Cairo to Los Angeles and back. The crew included four pilots, all of whom had many years of experience.

Debris, including seat cushions and pieces of liferafts, were sighted by a US merchant marine ship about 60 miles south of Nantucket within hours of the plane going missing. The first bodies were recovered soon afterwards.

The route taken by the plane was similar to that of TWA 800, the jumbo jet that crashed off Long Island in 1996 and Swissair 111, the McDonnell Douglas plane that crashed a year ago while trying to make an emergency landing at Halifax, Canada. That flightpath, however, is no different from the one used by hundreds of passenger planes flying from New York across the Atlantic each day.

After more fanciful explanations, such as the coincidence of Hallowe'en or computer confusion generated by the change from summer to winter time, were dismissed, attention focused on the possibility of catastrophic mechanical failure or terrorism. The weather at the time was good.

US officials would not speculate on the likelihood of terrorism, pleading a dearth of information and an absence of any claim of responsibility. An intelligence official said that the possibility was being investigated, but said that "there's nothing to immediately point toward that".

However, the Associated Press reported the existence of an apparent terrorist threat, contained in a Federal Aviation Administration circular on 24 September. It said several US agencies had received a warning in August that a bomb or explosive device with "spiral expansion" would soon be used on a flight departing from either Los Angeles airport or JFK airport, New York.

The circular said the informant identified himself as Luciano Porcari, the same name as a man who hijacked an Iberia Boeing 727 during an internal Spanish flight in 1977, and noted that the device could not be detected by airport metal detectors. EgyptAir said that it had no information about any threat to its planes.

Just two weeks before yesterday's crash, however, an EgyptAir plane flying between Istanbul and Cairo had been hijacked. The plane landed safely in Hamburg, where the hijacker, who was armed with a knife and reported to be mentally disturbed, surrendered.

The plane that went down yesterday had logged 33,000 flight hours - a normal record - since it was acquired by the airline in 1989, and had spent barely an hour on the tarmac at Kennedy airport, after a departure from Los Angeles that was delayed by a tyre-change.

Long criticised as excessively bureaucratic, and infuriatingly inefficient, the 67-year-old EgyptAir history is far from unblemished - despite claims yesterday by Egyptian officials that it has an excellent record, particularly in the past decade.

In 1996, an EgyptAir plane skidded on to a road and rammed into a taxi after landing in Istanbul - a crash that the airline blamed on Turkish airport authorities. A year earlier, an Airbus A300B4 aborted take-off in Cairo, and evacuated passengers after a fire.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us