Crash jet linked to Lauda Air disaster

US TRANSPORT officials yesterday pored over the records of aircraft similar to the EgyptAir plane that crashed off the American east coast on Sunday, seeking clues to what might have gone wrong. One strange coincidence emerged: the aircraft was built within days of an identical Boeing 767that crashed eight years ago, killing all those on board.

There were no indications yesterday of what might have caused the EgyptAir crash, or whether sabotage might have been involved, and officials underlined that many lines of investigation were open. "I think what we would do is look at the service record and maintenance record of the airplane, and obviously we're going to look at every possible scenario,'' said Doug Webb, a Boeing spokesman.

A Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand in 1991 after a reverse thruster, used to slow the aircraft when it is on the ground, accidentally came on when the aircraft was airborne. Once the thruster was deployed, the aircraft broke up in mid-air, crashed and all 223 passengers and crew died. Boeing said it knew of nothing to link this crash with Sunday's tragedy but said it would investigate every avenue.

The EgyptAir plane was the 282nd 767 to be built at the company's Everett plant in Washington state. The Lauda Air 767 was plane No 283 on the same assembly line. Both aircraft were built in 1989, days before the company's aircraft assemblers went on strike. They claimed, among other issues,that they were being made to work too much overtime. The strike came at a difficult time for the company as orders piled up, and some customers complained of quality problems. Those were later resolved, however, and there is no indication of any mechanical problems as a result.

Both aircraft were equipped with Pratt & Whitney 4080 engines. Boeing redesigned the reverse thruster device to incorporate a locking mechanism to prevent deployment while an aircraft was in flight.

In Egypt, people were yesterday trying to come to terms with the worst tragedy in the country's aviation history. The chairman of EgyptAir, victims' relatives and civil aviation officials left for the United States, where they will attempt to discover why the aircraft crashed.

The relatives of the 62 Egyptians on board Flight 990 were to fly to the US to help identify the bodies. The Egyptian Prime Minister, Atef Obeid, has promised that his government will pay for the bodies to be repatriated and will also compensate the bereaved families.

EgyptAir's chairman Mohammed Fahim Rayyan and civil aviation officials are to help the American investigators search for clues. Mr Rayyan has promised to resign if any failings are found on the part of the state- run airline.

Speaking shortly after the wreckage was discovered, Mr Rayyan insisted that the pilot was experienced and that the aircraft itself was in good condition. Asked whether EgyptAir had received any threats, hesaid that the airline had got used to receiving threats over the past 20 years.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak said it was still too early to say what had caused the crash but he said there was no evidence to suggest sabotage and noted that this was not the first aircraft to go down in the same area

The pilot's brother also suggested that the plane may have encountered difficulties. Speaking at Cairo airport, Tareq Anwar Hosni said his brother had telephoned their mother before take-off, as he did before all his flights. The pilot is understood to have said he expected the plane to arrive late, because wind conditions were not good and because the aircraft needed some repairs.

The pilot who flew the aircraft on the westbound leg of its journey from Cairo to Los Angeles described the shock of turning on the television in his Californian hotel room at 2am and realising the plane he had just handed over was missing over the Atlantic.

"I opened up the TV. I saw this catastrophe," 42-year-old Gamal Arram, said. "I thought it was a bad dream." Mr Arram, a pilot with 20 years' experience with EgyptAir, said he had had no problems with the Boeing 767. There had been no security alerts of any kind. "It was completely perfect," he said.