Statement of Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
on the Release of the Public Docket
of the Investigation of the Crash of EgyptAir flight 990
August 11, 2000
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming this morning. With me are Dr. Bernard Loeb, Director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Office of Aviation Safety; Mr. Greg Phillips, the Investigator-in-Charge of this investigation; and Dr. Vern Ellingstad, Director of the NTSB's Office of Research and Engineering.
On October 31, 1999, 217 individuals lost their lives when EgyptAir flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Our thoughts remain with the families of those who lost loved ones in the crash. Seven nationalities were represented on the plane: 100 were from the United States, 89 from Egypt, 21 from Canada, three from Syria, two from Sudan, one from Germany, and one from Zimbabwe.
As many of you know, we dispatched our Family Affairs staff to Newport, Rhode Island on the first day of the investigation to coordinate the assistance effort for the families of the 217 victims. Following the crash, about 650 family members came to Rhode Island. We continue to be in contact with family members to keep them abreast of the progress of the investigation.
We are here today to report to the American people, to the Egyptian people and to the families of the victims the status of our investigation, and to open the public docket pertaining to the investigation of that crash. By doing so, we are fulfilling our mandate to make public the factual information gathered to date and to provide the public with an accounting of the progress of the investigation.
By statute, when there is a cockpit voice recorder transcript, we open the docket either (1) as part of a public hearing or (2) when the majority of the factual reports are completed. In this instance, the Board has determined that there is no need for a public hearing.
The material being made public today contains factual reports from each of the investigative groups led by an NTSB investigator, groups such as Operations, Structures, Systems and Aircraft Performance. Additional factual material may be entered into the docket as the investigation progresses.
I have here a complete set of the documents contained in the docket, 1,664 pages are being placed on our web site so that it is available to anyone who wants to read it. These documents represent the hard work of investigators from the NTSB, Egypt and the parties - the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing Aircraft Company and Pratt & Whitney Engines. All told, at least 150 people have contributed so far.
It is important to note that only factual information is being released today. The Egyptian authorities have reviewed all the material contained in the docket. Where they have disagreements, they have been given the opportunity to submit those disagreements in writing, and that material is also included in the docket being opened today. There is no NTSB analysis in this material as to the cause of the crash; that analysis will be developed in the future and will be released by the Board in its final report.
I would like to spend a few moments reviewing events that have occurred since that tragic day last October. As you all know, EgyptAir flight 990, a Boeing 767-366ER, Egyptian registration number SU-GAP, while on a scheduled flight from New York to Cairo, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts in the early hours of October 31st. The crash occurred about 28 minutes after takeoff. The last contact with the airplane was about three minutes before the crash, when air traffic control asked the crew to contact New York Center and a crewmember acknowledged the clearance.
Because EgyptAir 990 was a non-U.S.-operated flight and crashed into international waters, international procedures, as outlined by Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, dictated that Egypt, as the state of registry, would be the investigative authority.
However, under the provisions of Annex 13, the government of Egypt delegated the investigation to the United States. As a result, the NTSB immediately assumed control of the investigation. And, we have conducted this investigation under NTSB's rules and procedures.
The Egyptian government designated the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) as its accredited representative to the investigation. Representatives from the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, along with technical advisors from EgyptAir and other organizations, arrived on scene soon after the crash and have been involved throughout the investigative process. Under ICAO rules, the operator, EgyptAir, serves as an advisor to the Egyptian government's accredited representative, rather than a party to the investigation.
The aircraft crashed into approximately 250 feet of water. Following an extensive and thorough search and rescue operation by the United States Coast Guard, it became evident that there were no survivors. We then initiated what would become a 51-day initial search and recovery operation. The U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration provided assets to locate and map the wreckage area. Two commercial vessels, the Carolyn Chouest and the Smit Pioneer, were contracted by the Navy's Supervisor of Salvage and Diving to assist in the recovery of the wreckage. Safety Board investigative and family affairs staff, supported by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, were on board the ships to assist in the recovery operation.
The initial wreckage recovery activity was completed on December 21, 1999. Much of the aircraft, including one of the engines, was recovered.
A second recovery effort, to retrieve the remaining engine and additional flight control components, was completed on April 3, 2000. In total, approximately 90 percent of the aircraft by weight has been recovered.
During the last 286 days, the Safety Board's investigative team has conducted an extensive investigation, including numerous tests, simulations, and examinations, to help determine the cause of this crash. Information on all of those efforts is included in the material being released today.
Among the factual reports is one prepared by the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) group. That group produced two transcripts of the CVR tape. The first is a transcription of what was actually spoken, both the original English (used in radio transmissions) and the original Arabic. The second is a translation of the Arabic into English.
The translation was done by an NTSB-contracted interpreter, an FBI language specialist, two members of the Egyptian delegation, and a State Department official, and was agreed to and signed by all participants, including the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and EgyptAir.
This process was no small task. It usually takes a CVR group about 16 hours to develop a 30-minute transcript (the length of a CVR tape). This group worked for 130 hours to prepare the transcripts.
Let me highlight some information contained in other factual reports in the public docket:
The public docket also contains information we have received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has provided the NTSB a number of witness interviews that were conducted by their agents following the crash. These statements have been redacted to delete material including personal identifying information. Our investigators have determined that the interviews may be relevant to our investigation, and the FBI has approved our release of these records. The FBI has also provided the NTSB copies of interviews it conducted with an EgyptAir captain who had requested asylum in England. The FBI has requested that we not make those interviews available to persons outside the NTSB at this time, for reasons the FBI represents are unrelated to the crash, and we are honoring their request.
Let me describe our process the rest of the way through this investigation. We will soon hold a technical review, in which parties and Egyptian authorities will discuss with NTSB staff what further information may be needed before the factual record is closed.
NTSB staff will soon begin writing analyses of the factual information in their group chairmen reports. The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and the parties will be given an opportunity to submit their recommended findings, probable cause and safety recommendations. NTSB staff will then draft a final report after reviewing all of that information.
Under ICAO procedures, the staff's draft report will be shared with the Egyptian accredited representative, who will then have 60 days in which to review and respond to that information. After receipt of that response, the Board's staff will finalize its draft report and submit it to the five Members of the National Transportation Safety Board.
I hope that gives you all a good understanding of where we are in the process of completing this investigation. The circumstances of the crash and the scope of the human tragedy have made this a very difficult investigation. As I said earlier, the investigators have already spent 286 days investigating the crash. The NTSB's investigation is expected to cost an estimated $17 million, much of that in search and recovery costs. As you may know, the government of Egypt has contributed $5 million toward defraying those search and recovery costs, and has pledged to pay more in the future.
Because of the nature of the crash, victim identification has been a slow process. So far, 19 victims have been identified and their families notified. We have been working with the Medical Examiner's Office of the State of Rhode Island and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) to facilitate this endeavor. DNA testing to identify the other victims is on going. AFIP and the medical examiner are confident that they will be able to identify all 217 victims, provided it has family DNA reference samples for all of them. AFIP has family DNA reference samples for most of the passengers, but, unfortunately, it has not received samples from all of the families in Egypt. I learned this week that 35 Egyptian DNA reference samples are on their way to the United States. Our embassy in Cairo is continuing to work closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the remaining families and obtain the necessary samples.
This has been an immense tragedy - experienced by people around the world - and it is the hope of everyone involved in this investigation, American and Egyptian, that we can complete this investigation and find the cause of this crash as soon as possible.
I want to thank the Egyptian authorities for their help in this investigation - particularly the Chairman of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, General Kato; Egypt's Ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy; and the investigative team headed by Captain Mohsen Elmissiry and Captain Shaker Kelada.
I also want to again thank Governor Lincoln Almond of the State of Rhode Island for all the assistance he and the citizens of Rhode Island provided to our investigation and to the families in the weeks following the crash.
Before I close, let me say that I have spoken with Ambassador Fahmy this morning. He strongly expressed the Egyptian government's understandable displeasure at the leak of factual information from the official docket to the investigation. I share his displeasure. This is a breach of our investigative process.
I also spoke to FBI Director Louis Freeh this morning. We both agreed that we will conduct an inquiry as to who leaked this information and if we can identify the individual or individuals who leaked this information, we will take appropriate action.
Speaking for the NTSB, I want to make it perfectly clear that no determination as to the cause of this crash has been made. We will continue to work with the Egyptian officials to find the truth.
Therefore, it is inappropriate to draw conclusions now on the basis of the factuals since that is a task the investigators are now undertaking.
Before I continue, let me introduce the head of the Egyptian investigative team, Captain Elmissiry, to say a few words.
As I have outlined for you, we are opening the public docket today, containing the investigators' factual reports. While I will be happy to answer some of your questions, please limit them to the factual record of the investigation. I will not engage in analysis of the information. That will be done by the Safety Board in a report that will be released when completed.
At the conclusion of this press conference, we will open the docket by placing it on our web page and by giving those of you here a compact disk containing all of the information being released. This information is also being provided today to the families. Our web page address is www.ntsb.gov.