Disaster jet was twin of plane in Lauda Air crash

UNITED STATES transport officials pored over the records of aircraft similar to the EgyptAir plane that crashed off the American east coast on Sunday, seeking clues to the cause. One coincidence emerged yesterday: the aircraft was built within days of an identical Boeing 767 that crashed eight years ago, killing all those on board.

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 on the ground, accidentally came on in flight. Once the thruster was deployed, the aircraft broke up, crashed and all 223 passengers and crew died. Boeing said it knew of nothing to link this crash with Sunday's tragedy.

The EgyptAir Boeing 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 were built in 1989, days before the aircraft assemblers went on strike. They claimed they were being made to work too much overtime. The strike was resolved and there is no indication of any resulting mechanical problems.

In Egypt yesterday, people were 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 US. The Egyptian Prime Minister, Atef Obeid, has promised his government will pay for the bodies to be repatriated and will compensate the bereaved. EgyptAir's chairman, Mohammed Fahim 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 in good condition. Asked whether EgyptAir had received any threats, he said it had grown used to receiving threats over the past 20 years.

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

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

Gamal Arram, 42, the pilot who had flown the aircraft from Cairo to Los Angeles, said he had had no problem with it.