As the world still mourns the devastating Malaysia Airlines’ MH17 shoot-down incident in Ukraine (the second time the country’s national carrier faces its tragedy after the disappearance of MH370), let us take a look at another case of plane crash, as seen from the case of EgyptAir 990, which crashed into the waters surrounding Nantucket Islands, Massachusetts, on a flight scheduled between Los Angeles and Cairo, Egypt’s capital, 15 years ago.
The real cause of the crash, though, remains up to speculation nowadays. Some disputed if it was caused by mechanical failures or a deliberately planned act by the main crew themselves.
Read the full story, written by veteran journalist and aviation enthusiast, William Langewiesche, released in 2001, in The Atlantic.
Flight 990 pushed back from the gate and taxied toward the active runway at 1:12 A.M. Because there was little other traffic at the airport, communications with the control tower were noticeably relaxed. At 1:20 Flight 990 lifted off. It topped the clouds at 1,000 feet and turned out over the ocean toward a half moon rising above the horizon. The airplane was identified and tracked by air-traffic-control radar as it climbed through the various New York departure sectors and entered the larger airspace belonging to the en-route controllers of New York Center; its transponder target and data block moved steadily across the controllers’ computer-generated displays, and its radio transmissions sounded perhaps a little awkward, but routine. At 1:44 it leveled off at the assigned 33,000 feet.
The en-route controller working the flight was a woman named Ann Brennan, a private pilot with eight years on the job. She had the swagger of a good controller, a real pro. Later she characterized the air traffic that night as slow, which it was—during the critical hour she had handled only three other flights. The offshore military-exercise zones, known as warning areas, were inactive. The sky was sleeping.
At 1:47 Brennan said, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, change to my frequency one-two-five-point-niner-two.”
EgyptAir acknowledged the request with a friendly “Good day,” and after a pause checked in on the new frequency: “New York, EgyptAir Nine-nine-zero heavy, good morning.”
Brennan answered, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, roger.”
That was the last exchange. Brennan noticed that the flight still had about fifteen minutes to go before leaving her sector. Wearing her headset, she stood up and walked six feet away to sort some paperwork. A few minutes later she approved a request by Washington Center to steer an Air France 747 through a corner of her airspace. She chatted for a while with her supervisor, a man named Ray Redhead. In total she spent maybe six minutes away from her station, a reasonable interval on such a night. It was just unlucky that while her back was turned Flight 990 went down.