Statement by NTSB Chairman Jim Hall
On the EgyptAir Flight 990 Investigation
Washington, D.C.
November 19, 1999


Good afternoon.  It has been a few days since I've had the opportunity to talk to all of you about our investigation of the crash of Egyptair flight 990.  Let me update you on where we are on the investigation and then I'll take a few questions.

Yesterday, three additional Egyptian representatives arrived from Cairo to join the Egyptian delegation headed by General Abdel-Fatteh Kato and immediately began reviewing the progress of the investigation.  As you know, representatives of Egyptair and the Egyptian government have been working with us on this investigation from the very beginning.

Right now, investigators from all of the parties to the investigation - the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing Aircraft, Pratt & Whitney Engines, and Egyptair - and representatives from the government of Egypt and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are preparing a verbatim, literal Arabic transcript of the entire CVR recording.  When that is completed, an English translation will be prepared.  This group will be working intensively until they complete their task.

Our maintenance records group has received the maintenance history of the accident aircraft and is reviewing it.

The U.S. Navy has contracted for a salvage ship, the Smit Pioneer, to be used in the recovery efforts.  This is a multipurpose offshore installation vessel.  It has a large loading capacity and is suitable for operations in remote areas, deep water and high seas.  The vessel is currently in Lisbon, Portugal, and should arrive at Quonset Point, Rhode Island around the first of December.  Recovery operations for victims' remains and aircraft wreckage should begin shortly thereafter.  Weather will determine how many weeks the recovery will take.  We will continue to update family members during this period.

At the same time, the Carolyn Chouest, with the ROV Magnum aboard, is video mapping the wreckage field.  The weather window is projected to last until late tonight or early tomorrow.

The flight data recorder information is being used to program a Boeing Aircraft simulator near Seattle so that the Airplane Performance Group and the Operations Group can assemble out there in a couple weeks to run simulations using that data to understand the behavior of that aircraft during the final minutes of flight.

Over the last few days, we have witnessed a virtual cyclone of speculation about the course of this investigation.  I'd like to address this issue for the benefit of the American people, and for those around the world who might be wondering what's going on.

On October 31, the day EgyptAir flight 990 crashed, the government of Egypt asked the United States - specifically the National Transportation Safety Board - to conduct the civil investigation of the accident, as called for under Annex 13 of the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  Both Egypt and the United States are signatories to this treaty.

Over the succeeding weeks, as we began gathering information from radar data, the flight recorders, and the little wreckage that had been retrieved, our investigators began to feel that this crash might, and I emphasize might, be the result of a deliberate act.

Under paragraph 5.11 of ICAO's Annex 13, we are directed as follows:

"If, in the course of an investigation it becomes known, or it is suspected, that an act of unlawful interference was involved, the investigator-in-charge shall immediately initiate action to ensure that the aviation security authorities of the State concerned are so informed."

In accordance with our responsibilities under the ICAO standards and our own procedures, on Monday I met with FBI Director Louis Freeh to inform him that this accident might be the result of a deliberate act.  We also so informed our Egyptian partners in this investigation.  However, under our procedures, as spelled out in our aviation accident investigation manual, "In obvious cases of sabotage, murder, or other crimes, the criminal investigation will take precedence over the NTSB's investigation."

After consultations among the Egyptian authorities, the Safety Board and the FBI, we agreed that more work needed to be done before we could reach the threshold of asking the FBI to take the leadership of this investigation.

As I've been explaining to you this week, that work continues.  Both the NTSB's and the FBI's on-going investigations continue to move forward.

I deeply regret the fact that some unidentified sources have led some in the news media to speculate on undocumented information, particularly from one of the most sensitive investigative tools at our disposal, the cockpit voice recorder.  This has caused pain for the families, has not promoted the interests of aviation safety, and has placed misinformation in the public realm.

Documenting the CVR in any crash investigation is a painstaking process.  This is compounded in this case by the fact that the CVR is almost entirely in Arabic.

I hope you agree that the Safety Board has been open with this investigation, releasing factual information as it becomes available.  Since the aircraft wreckage remains at the bottom of the ocean, this factual information has by necessity been limited to radar data and flight data recorder information.

We have not released specific information from the cockpit voice recorder, and any so-called verbatim information you have heard about that recorder is unauthorized; second-, third- or fourth-hand; and as we saw in the morning newspapers, could be flat out wrong.

No one wants to get to the bottom of this mystery quicker than those investigating this accident - both here and in Egypt - but we won't get there on a road paved with leaks, supposition, speculation and spin.  That road does not lead to the truth, and the truth is what both the American people and the Egyptian people seek.

As I mentioned in my speech to the International Society of Air Safety Investigators on August 24, this is a challenge that faces all of us.  Every time we embark on a major investigation, we do it under the instantaneous scrutiny of the whole world.  This in itself is not a bad thing.  The Safety Board prides itself on being an open, public agency.  But what is a bad thing is misinformation based not on the facts, but on someone's uninformed speculation.  I realize that this is not a one-way street; it takes someone to reveal information to you - whether it is accurate or not - for you to report it.  Nevertheless, it brings needless pain to those who have suffered a personal loss in an aviation tragedy, and certainly does not assist us toward our goal of finding out what caused flight 990 to crash.

We do not plan to have any press briefings over the weekend.  I'll be happy to take some of your questions.

Chairman Hall's Speeches & Testimony