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Survivors of EgyptAir Crash Victims Skeptical, Angry

March 16, 2002|MIKE ANTON and TINA BORGATTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed in 1999, Gail Seidman's mother, Tobey, was one of those who died.

Seidman was highly skeptical Friday on learning that a federal report on the crash is expected to say that the disaster was caused deliberately by a co-pilot.

"My knee-jerk reaction is still that it was terrorism," said Seidman, 48, a structural engineer who lives in Vallejo, Calif. "9/11 only solidified it for me. But the government will never admit it. They won't go there."

Seidman's mother, who lived in Irvine, was one of 10 Orange County residents killed in the crash. Seidman and others who lost loved ones said knowing the reason for the crash, in which 217 people died, would not ease their pain.

Eryn Bowman, who lost her mother-in-law, Judith, said she feels outrage that an EgyptAir supervisor reprimanded co-pilot Gamil El Batouty hours before the New York-to-Cairo flight.

"That to me was extremely maddening," said Bowman, of Huntington Beach. "To so tactlessly inform him just hours before he was in the air that it would be his last transatlantic flight--who in their right mind would do that?

"Nothing would increase or decrease the anger that we felt or still feel," Bowman said. "Whether this was revenge or suicide, we don't care. What angers us is the irresponsibility of EgyptAir."

The Times reported Friday that the National Transportation Safety Board's conclusions, expected to be released in a few days, probably will say that the jumbo jet was brought down by the methodical, determined acts of a veteran co-pilot.

The latest revelations were no surprise to Arthur Wolk, a Philadelphia-based attorney who sued EgyptAir on behalf of the families of five Orange County victims. Two of the surviving families have settled; the others are pursuing legal action against the airline.

The theory that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane on Oct. 31, 1999, off the coast of New England has been explored in the litigation involving the Orange County plaintiffs, Wolk said.

"Whether it was to avenge what he perceived as unfair treatment by his airline superiors or whether it was to cause the death of the Americans or Egyptian soldiers on board, one may never know," Wolk said. But clearly, he said, the co-pilot caused the crash.

"The flight data recorder shows he was in the cockpit by himself," Wolk said. "If he wasn't promoted to captain, you've got to wonder why he was left at the controls alone. When the captain returned to the cockpit and began trying to pull the plane out of the dive, the co-pilot shut the engines off and worked against the pilot. There is no way this could have been an accident."

Seidman said she believes that Batouty, working for terrorists, crashed the plane to prevent a group of American-trained Egyptian military officers from returning home.

"We need Egypt right now because of the volatile politics" in the Middle East, she said. "The U.S. will put its best foot forward to keep them on our side instead of getting to the truth."

In her lawsuit against EgyptAir, Seidman said she has rejected settlements that are "way, way, way less" than the $2.7 million the Federal Aviation Administration has calculated as the monetary value of a life lost in a plane crash. She said she only recently began coping with her loss.

"It's been life-altering. My whole way of life was ripped out from underneath me," she said. Dealing with her pain has made her more empathetic and tolerant, more aware of others' pain, she said.

"9/11 brought me to my knees. It brought me to the fetal position."

Bowman said her family hopes the release of the final NTSB report will bring some closure.

"It's hard to keep having these reports come out," Bowman said. "There's always something we have to read. . . . We can't get on until all this ends. We're not free to have our memories because something is continually being thrown in our face."

*

Times staff writer Ray Herndon contributed to this report.

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