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U.S: Aviation Experts Search For EgyptAir Crash Clues

Searchers have abandoned hope of finding any survivors in the crash of an EgyptAir Boeing 767 jet. The airliner plunged into the Atlantic Ocean half an hour after takeoff from New York to Cairo. Recovery workers now face the grim task of locating bodies while investigators try to determine what caused the tragedy. RFE/RL's Frank T. Csongos reports:

Washington, 2 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Coast Guard crews are focusing their efforts today (Tuesday) on recovering bodies in the crash of an Egyptian airliner as aviation experts searched for clues on what went wrong.

The EgyptAir Boeing 767 jet with 217 passengers and crew members aboard plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday 33 minutes after taking off from New York to Cairo. It is not known whether the crash was caused by pilot error, mechanical failure or a combination of both. Officials said there was no indication of sabotage.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee said everyone on board appeared to have perished.

"We believe at this point that it is in everyone's best interest to no longer expect that we will find survivors in this case."

Experts said the ocean water was just too cold for people to have lived for a prolonged period in the unlikely prospect that they have survived the crash impact.

"Our hypothermic tables tell us that the average life expectancy in water temperatures of 58 degrees (about 14 degrees Celsius) is about five to six hours. We have far exceeded that."

As searchers focused on retrieving remains and locating the wreckage and potential clues, they found what Larrabee called a large piece of the aircraft. They also located a signal, perhaps one of the plane's so-called black boxes. Also spotted were other debris such as aircraft seats and cushions, clothing and paperwork.

By Monday afternoon, only one body had been recovered. Larrabee said searchers were finding evidence of other human remains.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies were investigating the possibility of sabotage as a matter of routine, but authorities stressed there has been no indication of foul play such as terrorism.

At the U.S. Defense Department, spokesman Ken Bacon said among the passengers aboard Flight 990 were some 30 Egyptian military officers, mostly pilots who had been training in the United States.

Aviation experts said it will be quite sometime before it can be determined what caused the crash, perhaps a year or longer.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead investigating agency into the cause of the disaster. The crash occurred in international waters but Egypt requested that the U.S. lead the inquiry.

Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall said: "We are beginning what may be a long investigation."

The jetliner carried a flight data recorder that registers all technical information on the aircraft such as altitude and speed. It can be a crucial instrument in pinpointing the cause of the crash.

Also on board was a cockpit voice recorder capable of recording conversation between the pilot and crew members and between the cockpit and New York air traffic controllers.

The passengers included 106 Americans, 62 Egyptians, 22 Canadians and various other nationals.