Within a few minutes of reaching cruising
altitude, the relief first officer, Captain Gamil el Batouty, entered
the flight deck and informed the command first officer, Adel Anwar, that
he was being relieved. This was unusual. In keeping with standard
EgyptAir and international procedures, flights of 990's duration carry
two crews -- a command crew consisting of a lead pilot and first officer
and a relief crew with the same complement. The lead pilot and first
officer are responsible for departure and arrival as well as the first
third and last third of the flight.
El Batouty, whose training
records revealed a pilot who struggled to achieve proficiency on the
767, was three hours early for his turn in the first officer's right
seat. Fourteen minutes after el Batouty took up his position on the
flight deck, Ann Brennan, the New York Center controller, called on
flight 990 as it departed the Atlantic sector: "EgyptAir 990 radar
contact lost recycle transponder squawk one-seven-one-two."
"EgyptAir 990 New York Center."
was concerned. Not only had she lost flight 990's transponder but also
the primary radar targets on the aircraft. She immediately informed her
supervisor that "something was wrong." The two veteran air traffic
controllers then called on ARINC -- a nonprofit corporation that
airlines use to communicate with their aircraft in flight -- for
assistance: "Mike Sierra Romeo [MSR--EgyptAir's International Civil
Aviation Organization airline designator] nine nine zero," called the
ARINC operator, but neither el Habashy nor el Batouty replied.
and her colleague enlisted the help of their counterparts at Boston
Center and the pilots of a Lufthansa 747 en route from Mexico City to
Frankfurt. After calling EgyptAir 990, the Lufthansa pilot reported back
to the New York Controller, "I am sorry there is no reply New York and
on one-twenty-one-five we hear no emergency locator transmitter." Next,
Brennan hailed "Huntress," the code word for Northeast Air Defense of
the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Made famous in
movies like the 1983 teen drama War Games, starring Mathew
Broderick and Ally Sheedy, NORAD is responsible for tracking everything
that comes into or out of the airspace of the United States, Canada, and
"[Frequency] One-seven-one-two over Dovey [the
"intersection" where aircraft begin transoceanic flight] should be maybe
a little east of Dovey by now," Brennan informed the airman on duty at
Huntress in Rome, New York.
"New York. Huntress. Negative. I can't find him."
Brennan then asked Huntress to contact civil and military controllers in Canada for assistance. Her efforts were in vain.
full twenty minutes before Brennan even placed her call to Huntress at
2:14 a.m., EgyptAir flight 990 had plunged into the Atlantic Ocean sixty
miles southwest of Nantucket Island. All 217 passengers and crew were
lost. What followed was for most Americans the standard ritual of
airplane accidents: saturated media coverage, memorial services for the
dead, and a news conference with a group of no-nonsense types declaring
that it was too early to make any "determinations" but vowing to "get to
the bottom of this" to ensure the safety of the "flying public."