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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Families Sue Airline in 1999 Crash That Killed More Than 200

October 24, 2000

SANTA ANA — The families of five Orange County residents who died in last year's crash of an EgyptAir jetliner have filed suit against the airline, alleging that pilot negligence and lax maintenance procedures contributed to the plane's plunge into the Atlantic.

The lawsuits, filed in federal court in Santa Ana, charge that airline workers ignored warning signs of possible problems with the Boeing 767 aircraft's tail assembly, and that they left alone a mentally unstable crew member to pilot the plane during crucial minutes before the crash Oct. 31, 1999.

The complaints, filed Oct. 18, are among dozens of legal actions initiated against the Egyptian airline as the disaster's first anniversary approaches. EgyptAir flight 990 was traveling from New York to Cairo when it crashed off the New England coast. More than 200 people died, including 10 passengers from Orange County who had boarded the plane in Los Angeles, its original departure point.

The lawsuits were filed by family members of Tobey Seidman, Sheila Jaffee, Judith Bowman, and Effat and Virginia Mansour. They seek unspecified compensatory damages. EgyptAir officials were not available for comment.

The cause of the crash remains a mystery, as Egyptian and U.S. officials have offered differing scenarios of what could have occurred.

One original theory pushed by U.S. investigators was that co-pilot Gamil Batouty deliberately plunged the jetliner into the Atlantic as part of a murder-suicide mission. Egyptian officials have said the accident could have been caused by malfunctions in the aircraft's elevator control system, precipitating the plane's steep dive.

The Orange County families' attorneys cite possible mechanical trouble as well as pilot negligence in failing to pull the plane up again.

Attorney Arthur Wolk said work crews in Los Angeles failed to perform routine maintenance checks, though there were signs of potential problems with the plane's elevators. The elevators, located on the plane's tail assembly, control the up or down angles of the nose.

When the plane went into its nose dive, only the co-pilot, Batouty, was in the cockpit at the time, a violation of federal aviation regulations, Wolk said. Batouty also showed signs of mental instability and should not have been left alone in the cockpit, he said.

EgyptAir officials have harshly rejected theories that Batouty acted intentionally.

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