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Sifting through the evidence
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 06 - 2002

Amid a war of words in the media, Egyptian investigators have begun their work to prepare a report on the EgyptAir 843 crash in Tunis last month. Amira Ibrahim reports
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Egyptian and Tunisian investigators started official investigations on Monday into the cause of the 7 May crash of EgyptAir 843 which left 14 dead in Tunis. The Egyptian team, led by Captain Orabi Abdullah representing the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and Captain Shaker Kilada representing the national carrier, arrived in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, last Friday.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Captain Magdeddin Rifaat, told reporters that the team visited the crash site on Nahli hill, and held several meetings with the Egyptian ambassador and EgyptAir officials in Tunis.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Tunis, Captain Abdullah said that the Egyptian team had been working since the crash on a preliminary analysis of the data taken from the plane's two black boxes.
"We have our own analysis of the data and voice recorders. The current phase, in cooperation with the Tunisian authorities, concentrates on collecting the data and information together so that we are able to reach a conclusion about the plane's condition before the accident," Orabi said. "There are some points that need more research and questions which we will seek answers for from the Tunisians -- who would also need answers from us," Orabi added.
Under international law, the investigations are led by the Tunisian government, which chose to send the black boxes to the French Aviation Authority's laboratories in Paris for analysis. A team of American investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), US Federal Aviation Authority and Boeing took part as observers, along with the Egyptians and the Tunisians.
Asked if there would be a need to conduct some tests at Boeing's laboratories, Orabi did not dismiss the idea. "Aviation accidents are not always the same. Each accident has its own 'fingerprint'. For the time being, the official investigating authorities are working to prepare the factual report as a first step. Later, we will see what more investigations we need," he said.
The factual report will contain no analysis of why the plane went down in the Tunisian hills. It will pave the way, however, for an analysis and a conclusion on the cause of the crash. Officials have already stated that information from the flight data recorder showed the plane was in perfect condition during the trip, and just before the crash.
The Egyptians and Tunisians will receive a copy of the factual report for review. Sources at the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that the report might be ready by the end of June. "If there are any objections, they would be attached to the report," Orabi said.
There have been a number of conflicting stories about the crash. Some claimed the pilot reported a mechanical problem. Others said the pilot had to circle above Carthage airport many times to empty the fuel and avoid an explosion on landing. These, however, have been dismissed by the authorities in both countries. Nonetheless, in a rush to judgment, over the last two weeks Egyptian and Tunisian media have been involved in exchanging accusations over the probable cause of the accident. Reports in the Tunisian media quoted unidentified Tunisian sources alleging that the pilot carried out an emergency landing after emptying the fuel tanks. They once again claimed that the landing gear did not work.
Egyptian officials had previously said that an examination of the plane and analysis of the black boxes indicated that the aircraft had not faced any mechanical problems during the trip from Cairo before it crashed six kilometres from Carthage airport. "Weather turbulence and human error top the probable causes of the crash," said Minster of Civil Aviation Ahmed Shafiq on 5 June. Shafiq also dismissed the possibility that the plane may have been incorrectly directed by the Carthage control tower to the hilly area of Al- Nahli, where it crashed.
The Egyptian press, for its part, voiced suspicions that inaccurate Tunisian maps of the area were provided to the Egyptian pilots. Some press reports also attacked the Tunisian authorities and accused them of hiding facts.
Last week, Shafiq put an end to the controversy at a news conference when he warned that hostile media debate in both countries could damage the investigation. "Holding the Tunisian maps responsible for the crash is sheer nonsense," the minister said. "The investigative team will certainly study all possibilities, whether they are strong or weak. But for myself I would dismiss such possibilities."
In a gesture of good will, Shafiq expressed his gratitude to the Tunisian authorities for their cooperation in the investigations. "Since the crash, the Tunisian authorities have done a lot that we appreciate," he said.

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