Pride and prejudice cloud the search for crash facts

INVESTIGATORS, POLITICIANS and officials in Washington were last night trying to calm the growing row over the EgyptAir disaster.

Egyptian officials were examining the voice recorder, the transcripts from which convinced US investigators that the co-pilot deliberately put the aircraft into a steep dive. So far the Egyptians are far less certain of this, though unlike their American counterparts they have not been prepared to speculate anonymously to the press about their own theories. The truth probably lies in the fragments of wreckage spread across miles of the seabed, and it may never be clear to everybody's satisfaction.

The issue has become not just an argument about what caused EgyptAir's flight 990 from New York to Cairo to crash, but a dispute about motives and prejudice. The Egyptians believe the US is trying to protect Boeing, and that it automatically suspects Muslims of being guilty of reckless acts if not terrorism. The Americans privately believe the Egyptian government is trying to protect the national carrier.

The American theory turns on a few facts, whose interpretation is disputed. The cockpit voice recorders apparently show that the aircraft's captain, Ahmed al-Habashi, left the flight deck, leaving Gamil al-Batouti at the helm.

Batouti is reported to have said "I made my decision now," before repeating a Muslim prayer, which is variously translated as "I put my faith in God's hands," or "I depend on God." The aircraft's autopilot was then disconnected and the plane went into a steep dive. The engines were cut off, and the aircraft's two elevators were moved into different directions, so that one was pointing the plane down and one up.

Much in this is still unclear. Some leaked versions of the cockpit voice recorder do not include the comment about "I have made my decision now." Everyone agrees that Muslims use the prayer on many different occasions - when starting a car, or for something as simple as peeling potatoes.

The series of events on the data recorder and the voice recorder have had to be synchronised, which leaves some uncertainty. It is not clear who turned off the engines - some versions of the story say that it was the pilot who did this, apparently to slow the aircraft in its dive. And the significance of the elevators is unclear, although the US media have portrayed a struggle for control in the cockpit. The sensitivities of the case have led the US National Transportation Safety Board to hold back on handing the case over to the FBI, which has apparently been the source of the leaks but a decision is still expected in the next few days.

Nabil Fahmi, Egypt's new ambassador to Egypt has spent the week flitting between his embassy, the investigators and the State department. "It's a professional, cooperative effort between professionals belonging to governments who have very strong relations," he said. "Both sides want to know the truth and we're working to achieve that."

Washington, too, has sought to play down the media's theorising about the crash, though even the terms in which it has put its side have hardly been guaranteed to give the impression of evenhandedness. "We're appealing for calm, and calm can only come if there is a minimum of speculation about conclusions in this country, and a minimum of wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories in other media in the Middle East,'' said the State Department spokesman James Rubin.

The efforts to recover the wreckage of the aircraft continue and the salvage vessel Carolyn Chouest has resumed its search. Rough weather has complicated its task, and with winter moving in , its task will not become any easier. The political turbulence, too, shows few signs of abating. And now the lawsuits have started, raising the stakes for everyone concerned with the incident.

The wreckage of TWA Flight 800, which crashed nearby three years ago, was recovered, but there is still no conclusive proof of what brought it down. The mainstream explanation is that an electrical fault caused vapour in the fuel tank to explode but theories about missiles and bombs still circulate.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power