Before Germanwings, Egyptian Flight 990 Was The Last Time A Commercial Flight Carrying Hundreds Was Hijacked By Its Pilot
On Thursday, French prosecutor Brice Robin announced that the Germanwings flight that crashed into the French Alps Tuesday was deliberately downed by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz. Investigations are still underway as to why the co-pilot initiated the crash, but recordings recovered from the cockpit strongly suggest it was intentional. As crazy as it seems, this isn't the first time this has happened — the last time a pilot deliberately crashed a large commercial plane carrying over 40 people was in 1999, with Egyptair Flight 990.
Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket, Mass. in October 1999, just 33 minutes after takeoff from New York. The 199 passengers and 18 crew members onboard were all killed. Similarly to Germanwings flight 4U 9525, the co-pilot of the downed Egyptair plane forced it into a rapid descent that led the plane into the ocean. Aviation officials at the time said that the impact of hitting the water at such high speed shattered the plane, and wreckage was found floating in the water.
A report by the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the Egyptair co-pilot, Gamil el-Batouty, was the "probable cause of the crash," but did not determine el-Batouty's motive. However, The Guardian reported that sources close to the investigation believed he downed the plane as an act of revenge.
The Guardian reported that el-Batouty was reprimanded for "sexual misconduct" and told that Flight 990 would be his last transatlantic flight. The sexual misconduct allegations against el-Batouty included exposing himself to teenage girls, propositioning hotel maids, and stalking women.
Hatem Rushdy, the the chief of EgyptAir's Boeing 767 pilot group who dealt el-Batouty this punishment, was onboard Flight 990. A former EgyptAir captain, Hanofy Taha Mahmoud Hamdy, told the Los Angeles Times:
Rushdy told him "this is your last flight" and el-Batouty's attitude was "this is the last flight for you too."
Recordings from the plane's back box reveal that Rushdy had entered the cockpit. Not long after, el-Batouty, who was meant to fly the second half of the flight, went into the cockpit and ordered a younger pilot out of his seat. He turned off the plane's auto-pilot, pushing the plane into a dive and saying "I rely on God." The captain, Ahmed el-Habashy, managed to get back to the cockpit, saying: "What's happening, Gamil? What's happening?" El-Batouty again said, "I rely on God," and shut off the fuel to both engines. El-Habashy, as he grabbed the controls, was recorded saying:
What is this? Did you shut the engines? Pull with me! Pull with me!
El-Habashy was able to maneuver the plane back up a bit, but it then lost power and crashed into the Atlantic. The U.S. was reportedly criticized in Cairo for looking into the possibility that the plane was intentionally crashed, and Egyptian investigators rejected the idea.
More recently, a much smaller Mozambican Airlines plane was purposefully crashed by the pilot in November 2013, killing all 33 people onboard. The Civil Aviation Institute said the pilot made a "deliberate series of maneuvers" that downed the plane in Namibia's Bwabwata National Park.
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