EgyptAir's Last Crash Before MS804 Was In 2002

by Joseph D. Lyons

Early Thursday morning EgyptAir flight MS804 is thought to have plummeted into the Mediterranean en route to Cairo from Paris. This tragic accident is just the latest in months of bad news coming from the Egyptian aviation industry. In November a Russian plane crashed over the Sinai Peninsula after leaving the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh. Then in March, an EgyptAir flight leaving Alexandria was diverted to Cyprus after a passenger threatened to blow himself up. But for the last EgyptAir crash before MS804, you have to go back 14 years to 2002 in Tunisia.

EgyptAir Flight 843 was headed to Tunisia's largest airport from Cairo. The Boeing 737 was about four miles from the Tunis-Carthage airport when it plowed into a hill. Weather conditions and pilot error were to blame and 14 people died, three crew members and 11 passengers. It was foggy and rainy at the time — and there was a sandstorm from the Sahara Dessert blowing in. The pilot called in a distress call and air traffic controllers quickly lost contact.

The plane hit turbulence as it was beginning to land, and then the landing gear didn't open. The plane made another pass, and this is when it crashed. Witnesses reported that the pilot released fuel shortly before landing, which may have presented an explosion, allowing the 48 survivors to exit the plane safely. "We felt jolts in the plane, and a member of the crew reassured us that it was only clouds. Suddenly, we saw sparks in the plane and then it hit the ground," a Tunisian woman told the Associated Press at the time. She was able to exit with her two children through a gaping hole left by the crash.


The crash immediately before Tunisia occurred in 1999 and actually departed from the United States. EgyptAir flight 990 was en route from Los Angeles to Cairo with a stop in New York City. It had just left JFK on Oct. 31, and was proceeding normally, having reached a cruising altitude of 33,000, where it remained for a half an hour. Then it dropped into the Atlantic for no apparent reason. The NTSB eventually found that it was a suicide; the first relief officer was thought to have intentionally downed the plane as an act of revenge. Egypt refuted that finding, and does so to this day. All 217 people on board were killed.

These two crashes are not the only problems that the airline has had in recent years. Of course there was the hijacking in March. No one was killed; the alleged bomb was fake. Before that the cockpit of a Boeing 777 caught fire in 2011 while sitting at Cairo International Airport. No one was killed but the plane was destroyed to the point of no repair and written off.

Thursday's crash would be among the airline's most deadly. Before the 1999 crash, there hadn't been any fatalities linked to an EgyptAir crash since 1976 when a flight crashed in Thailand killing all 52 on board plus 19 people on the ground. In 1985, though, there was another hijacking. The plane was taken in Malta by members of the Abu Nidal terrorist group. After hours of negotiations, a firefight ensued and 61 of the 96 on board were killed.