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Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Pilot for EgyptAir
Number of victims: 216
Date of murders: October 31, 1999
Date of birth: February 2, 1940
Victims profile: 14 crew members and 203 passengers
Method of murder: Deliberately crashing Flight 990 into the ocean
Location: Atlantic Ocean 60 miles SE of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, USA
Status: Died in the "accident"
photo gallery
Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority Final Report (9.55 Mb)
Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority Final Report Addendum 1 (1.05 Mb)


NTSB Aircraft Accident Brief (1.79 Mb)
NTSB Operational Factors Group Chairman's Factual Report (1.19 Mb)
NTSB - Appendix 1 (4.73 Mb)
NTSB - ATC transmission transcript (1.93 Mb)

Gameel Al-Batouti (also rendered "Gamil ElBatouty" or "El Batouty" in U.S. official reports) (February 2, 1940 – October 31, 1999) was a pilot for EgyptAir, his home country's national airline, and a former officer for the Egyptian Air Force.

All 217 aboard were killed when EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles SE of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, on October 31, 1999. The NTSB concluded that the probable cause of the crash was a series of control inputs made by Al-Batouti.

Family and personal life

ElBatouty came from a socially elite family in Egypt. His father was a mayor and a landowner and family members were well educated and affluent.

Al-Batouti was married and had five children. The youngest, Aya, who was ten at the time of the crash, suffered from lupus, and was undergoing medical treatment in Los Angeles. Efforts had been made at EgyptAir, both at a company level and at an employee level to provide assistance to help defray the medical expenses.

Al-Batouti was approaching retirement (aviation regulations prevented him from flying as a commercial airline pilot after age 60), and had planned to split his time between a 10-bedroom villa outside of Cairo and a beach house near El Alamin.


Al-Batouti had been drafted into the Egyptian army, where he was trained as a pilot and flight instructor. He then worked for a time as an instructor at the Egyptian Air Institute. His position there was described by one colleague as "high profile".

While in the Army, Al-Batouti served as a pilot in both the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Batouti hired on with EgyptAir on September 8, 1987. He held type ratings for the Boeing 737-200, Boeing 767-200 and the 767-300. At the time of the crash, he had logged 12,538 hours of flight time, with 5,755 as pilot in command and 5,191 in the 767.

At the time of his death, Al-Batouti was the most senior first officer (F/O) flying the 767 at EgyptAir. He was not promoted to captain because he declined to sit for the exam for his Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rating.

The ATP study materials and exam are conducted in English (the international language of aviation), and Al-Batouti did not have sufficient English proficiency. Once he reached 55, the possibility of promotion was further hindered by EgyptAir policy which prevented promotions after that age.

According to statements made by his colleagues to the NTSB during the Flight 990 investigation, he did not want to be promoted, because as senior F/O, he could get his preferred flight schedules, which assisted in his family situation. Despite not being promoted to captain, he was often referred to by that title because of his previous experience at the Egypt Air Institute.

Flight 990

Batouti was the co-pilot that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suspected of deliberately crashing Flight 990 into the ocean, an assertion denied by Egyptian authorities.

According to the NTSB, Batouti seized the plane's controls and turned off the autopilot after the captain left the cockpit. He then led the plane into a dive, continually repeating, "I rely on God". The pilot then came back into the cockpit, tried to stop the dive, but could not prevent the plane from crashing into the ocean.

Some investigators learned that he was supposedly reprimanded for inappropriate behavior with female guests at the Hotel Pennsylvania, a New York City hotel often used by EgyptAir crews. Hatem Roushdy, an EgyptAir official said to be responsible for the alleged reprimand was a passenger on Flight 990.

The details of the reprimand included the removal of Gameel Al-Batouti's privilege of flying any flight to the United States, and that Flight 990 would be his last."

There was western media speculation that Batouti may have been a terrorist; his family and friends indicated that he had no strong political beliefs.

The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority disputes the cause of the crash, blaming technical problems, rather than any action of Al-Batouti.


EgyptAir Flight 990 (MSR990) was a regularly-scheduled Los Angeles-New York-Cairo flight. On October 31, 1999, at around 1:50 a.m. EST, Flight 990 dived into the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, in international waters, killing all 217 people on board.

The Flight Route Designation for New York to Cairo is now Flight 986 as a Boeing 777-200ER.

Flight details

Flight 990 was being flown in a Boeing 767-366ER aircraft with the registration SU-GAP, named Tuthmosis III after a pharaoh from the 18th Dynasty. The flight was carrying 14 crew members and 203 passengers from seven countries (Canada, Egypt, Germany, Sudan, Syria, United States, and Zimbabwe).

Included in the passenger manifest were over 30 Egyptian military officers; among them were two brigadier-generals, a colonel, major, and four other air force officers. Newspapers in Cairo were prevented by censors from reporting the officers' presence on the flight.

Flight 990 was crewed by 14 people, 10 flight attendants, and four flight crewmembers. Because of the scheduled flight time, the flight required two complete flight crews (each consisting of one captain and one first officer). EgyptAir designated one crew as the "active crew" and the other as the "cruise crew" (sometimes also referred to as the "relief crew").

It was customary for the active crew to make the takeoff and fly the first four to five hours of the flight. The cruise crew then assumed control of the aircraft until about one to two hours prior to landing, at which point the active crew returned to the cockpit and assumed control of the airplane.

EgyptAir designated the captain of the active crew as the Pilot-in-Command or the Commander of the flight. The active crew consisted of Captain Mahmoud El Habashy and First Officer Adel Anwar, and the cruise crew were Captain Amal El Sayed and First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti (the NTSB reports use the spelling "El Batouty").

ATC tracking

U.S. Air Traffic Controllers provide transatlantic flight control operations as a part of the "New York Center" (referred to in radio conversations simply as "Center" and abbreviated in the reports as "ZNY"). The airspace is divided into "areas," and "Area F" was the section that oversaw the airspace through which Flight 990 was flying.

Transatlantic commercial air traffic travels via a system of routes called North Atlantic Tracks, and Flight 990 was the only aircraft at the time assigned to fly North Atlantic Track Zulu. There are also a number of military operations areas over the Atlantic, called "Warning Areas," which are also monitored by New York Center, but records show that these were inactive the night of the accident.

Interaction between ZNY and Flight 990 was completely routine. After takeoff, Flight 990 was handled by three different controllers as it climbed up in stages to its assigned cruising altitude.

The aircraft, like all commercial airliners, was equipped with a Mode C transponder, which automatically reported the plane's altitude when queried by the ATC radar. At 1:44, the transponder indicated that Flight 990 had leveled off at FL330. Three minutes later, the controller requested that Flight 990 switch communications radio frequencies for better reception. A pilot on Flight 990 acknowledged on the new frequency. This was the last transmission received from Flight 990.

The records of the radar returns then indicate a sharp descent:

  • 0649:53Z - FL329

  • 0650:05Z - FL315

  • 0650:17Z - FL254

  • 0650:29Z - FL183 (this was the last altitude report received by ATC)

In a span of 36 seconds, the plane dropped 14,600 feet (nearly three miles). Several subsequent "primary" returns (simple radar reflections without the encoded Mode C altitude information) were received by ATC, the last being at 0652:05. At 0654, the ATC controller tried notifying Flight 990 that radar contact had been lost, but received no reply.

Two minutes later, the controller contacted ARINC to determine if Flight 990 had switched to an oceanic frequency too early. ARINC attempted to contact Flight 990 on SELCAL, also with no response. The controller then contacted a nearby aircraft, Lufthansa Flight 499, asking it to see if it could raise Flight 990. The German carrier responded that it had no radio contact and was not receiving any ELT signals. Air France Flight 439 was asked to overfly the last known position of Flight 990, but reported nothing out of the ordinary. Center also provided coordinates of Flight 990's last-known position to Coast Guard rescue aircraft.

Nationalities of passengers













 United States
















Included in the passenger manifest were over 30 Egyptian military officers, among them being two brigadier-generals, a colonel, a major, and four air force officers. Newspapers in Cairo were prevented by censors from reporting the officers' presence on the flight.


Flight data showed that the flight controls were used to move the elevators in order to initiate and sustain the steep dive. The flight deviated from its assigned altitude of 33,000 feet (FL330) and dove to 16,000 feet over 44 seconds, then climbed to 24,000 and began a final dive, hitting the Atlantic Ocean about two and a half minutes after leaving FL330.

Radar and radio contact was lost 30 minutes after the aircraft departed JFK Airport in New York on its flight to Cairo. The cockpit voice recorder recorded the First Officer repeating "I rely on God" eleven times while the Captain asked repeatedly "What is this?" during the dive. There were no other aircraft in the area. There was no indication that an explosion occurred on board. The engines operated normally for the entire flight until they shut down and the left engine was torn from the wing from the stress of the maneuvers.

Search and rescue efforts

Search and rescue operations were launched within minutes of the loss of radar contact, with the bulk of the operation being conducted by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). At 3:00 AM, an HU-25 Falcon jet took off from Airbase Cape Cod Mass, becoming the first rescue party to reach the last known position of the plane. All USCG cutters in the area were immediately diverted to search for the aircraft, and an urgent marine information broadcast was issued, requesting mariners in the area to keep a lookout for the downed aircraft.

At sunrise, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy training vessel King's Pointer found an oil sheen and some small pieces of debris. Rescue efforts continued by air and by sea, with a group of USCG cutters covering 10,000 square miles on October 31 with the hope of locating survivors, although all that could be recovered was a single body in the debris field.

Atlantic Strike Team members brought two truckloads of equipment from Fort Dix to Newport to set up an incident command post. Officials from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were dispatched to join the command. The search and rescue operation was eventually suspended on November 1, 1999, with the rescue vessels and aircraft moving instead to recovery operations.

These operations were ceased when the naval vessels USS Grapple and USNS Mohawk and the NOAA research vessel Whiting arrived to take over salvage efforts, including recovery of the bulk of the wreckage from the seabed.

In total, a C-130, an H-60 helicopter, the HU-25 Falcon and the cutters USCGC Monomoy, USCGC Spencer, USCG Reliance, USCG Bainbridge Island, USCG Juniper, USCG Point Highland USCG Chinook, and USCG Hammerhead, along with their supporting helicopters, participated in the search.

A second salvage effort was made in March 2000 that recovered the aircraft's second engine and some of the cockpit controls.


Under the International Civil Aviation Organization treaty, the investigation of an airplane crash in international waters is under the jurisdiction of the country of registry of the aircraft. At the request of the Egyptian government, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) took the lead in this investigation, with the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) participating.

The investigation was supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, EgyptAir, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines.

Two weeks after the crash, the NTSB proposed declaring the crash a criminal event and handing the investigation over to the FBI. Egyptian government officials protested, and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, traveled to Washington to join the investigation.

Hamdi Hanafi Taha defection

In February 2000, EgyptAir 767 captain Hamdi Hanafi Taha sought political asylum in London after landing his aircraft there. In his statement to British authorities, he claimed to have knowledge of the circumstances behind the crash of Flight 990. He is reported to have said that he wanted to "stop all lies about the disaster," and to put much of the blame on EgyptAir management.

Reaction was swift, with the NTSB and FBI sending officials to interview Taha, and Osama El-Baz, an advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying, "This pilot can't know anything about the plane, the chances that he has any information [about the crash of Flight 990] are very slim."

EgyptAir officials also immediately dismissed Taha's claim. Taha's information was reportedly of little use to the investigators, and his application for asylum was turned down.

Investigation conclusions


The NTSB's final report was issued on March 21, 2002, after a two-year investigation. Their conclusion was:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the EgyptAir flight 990 accident is the airplane's departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the relief first officer's flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer's actions was not determined.


The ECAA's final report, based largely on the NTSB's, came to distinctly different conclusions:

1. The Relief First Officer (RFO) did not deliberately dive the airplane into the ocean. Nowhere in the 1,665 pages of the NTSB’s docket or in the 18 months of investigative effort is there any evidence to support the so called “deliberate act theory.” In fact, the record contains specific evidence refuting such a theory, including an expert evaluation by Dr. Adel Fouad, a highly experienced psychiatrist.

2. There is evidence pointing to a mechanical defect in the elevator control system of the accident. The best evidence of this is the shearing of certain rivets in two of the right elevator bellcranks and the shearing of an internal pin in a power control actuator (PCA) that was attached to the right elevator. Although this evidence, combined with certain data from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), points to a mechanical cause for the accident, reaching a definitive conclusion at this point is not possible because of the complexity of the elevator system, the lack of reliable data from Boeing, and the limitations of the simulation and ground tests conducted after the accident. Additional evidence of relevant Boeing 767 elevator malfunctions in incidents involving Aero Mexico (February 2000), Gulf Air, and American Airlines (March, 2001). There were also two incidents on a United Airlines airplane in 1994 and 1996.

3. Investigators cannot rule out the possibility that the RFO may have taken emergency action to avoid a collision with an unknown object. Although plausible, this theory cannot be tested because the United States has refused to release certain radar calibration and test data that are necessary to evaluate various unidentified radar returns in the vicinity of Flight 990.

Investigation criticism

The investigation and its results drew criticism from the Egyptian Government, which advanced several alternative theories about mechanical malfunction of the aircraft. In Western countries, the Egyptian rejection of the NTSB report was attributed to a strong Egyptian cultural aversion to suicide. The theories proposed by Egyptian authorities were tested by the NTSB, and none were found to match the facts.

For example, an elevator assembly hardover (in which the elevator in a fully extended position sticks because the hinge catches on the tail frame) proposed by the Egyptians was discounted, because the flight recorder data showed the elevator was in a "split condition." In this state, one side of the elevator is up and the other down; on the 767, this condition is only possible through flight control input (e.g., one yoke is pushed forward, the other pulled backward).

Nevertheless, the investigation is commonly held to have reached incorrect conclusions especially, but not only, in Egypt. Many Egyptians are convinced that sabotage is the likeliest cause of the crash of a flight that was carrying 33 Egyptian army officers.

Another theory proposes that the aircraft was passing through a military zone, without proper co-ordination, and suffered from electromagnetic interference.

Media coverage

While the official investigation was proceeding, speculation about the crash ran rampant in both the Western media and the Egyptian press.

Western media speculation

Long before the NTSB had issued its final report, Western media began to speculate about the meaning of the taped cockpit conversations and about possible motives (including suicide and terrorism) behind Al-Batouti's actions on the flight. The speculation, in part, was based on leaks from an unnamed federal law enforcement official that the crew member in the co-pilot's seat was recorded as saying, "I made my decision now. I put my faith in God's hands."

During a press conference held on November 19, 1999, the NTSB's Jim Hall denounced such speculation and said that it had "done a disservice to the long-standing friendship between the people of the United States of America and Egypt."

On November 20, 1999, the Associated Press quoted senior American officials as saying that the quote was not in fact on the tape. It is believed that the speculation arose from a mistranslation of an Egyptian Arabic phrase meaning "I rely on God."

London's Sunday Times, quoting unnamed sources, speculated that Al-Batouti had been "traumatized by war," and was depressed because much of his fighter squadron in the 1973 war had been killed.

Egyptian media reaction and speculation

The Egyptian media reacted in outrage to the speculations in the Western press. The state-owned Al Ahram Al Misai called Al-Batouti a "martyr," and the Islamist Al Shaab covered the story under a headline that stated, "America's goal is to hide the truth by blaming the EgyptAir pilot."

At least two Egyptian newspapers, Al Gomhuriya and Al Musawwar, offered theories that the aircraft was accidentally shot down by the U.S. Other theories were advanced by the Egyptian press as well, including the Islamist Al Shaab, which speculated that a Mossad/CIA conspiracy was to blame (since, supposedly, EgyptAir and El Al crews stay at the same hotel in New York). Al Shaab also accused U.S. officials of secretly recovering the FDR, reprogramming it, and throwing it back into the water to be publicly recovered.

Unifying all the Egyptian press was a stridently held belief that it "is inconceivable that a pilot would kill himself by crashing a jet with 217 people aboard. 'It is not possible that anyone who would commit suicide would also kill so many innocent people alongside him,' said Ehab William, a surgeon at Cairo's Anglo-American Hospital," reported the Cairo Times.

The Egyptian media also reacted against Western speculation of terrorist connections. The Cairo Times reported, "The deceased pilot's nephew, Walid Al Batouti, has lashed out in particular against speculation that his uncle could have been a religious extremist. 'He loved the United States,' the nephew said. 'If you wanted to go shopping in New York, he was the man to speak to, because he knew all the stores.' The family adopted Donald Duck (Batout in Arabic, from batt, or duck) as its emblem, and toy Donalds are scattered throughout the nephew's and the uncle's houses."


The story of the flight has been featured in the Discovery Channel Canada/National Geographic television show Mayday (Air Crash Investigation, Air Emergency). In the show, the flight is dramatized based on ATC tapes as well as the CVR recordings.

In interviews conducted for the program, Al-Batouti's family members continue to vehemently dispute the suicide/deliberate crash theories and dismiss them as biased. Nevertheless, the program implies he crashed the plane for personal reasons: he had been severely reprimanded by his boss for sexual harassment, and this boss was actually on the plane.

The dramatization of the crash also depicts Al-Batouti forcing the plane down with the pilot attempting to pull the plane up. Despite this, upon conclusion the program stresses the official NTSB conclusion, which makes no mention of a suicide mission or a deliberate crash. Rather, it simply states that the crash was a direct result of actions made by the co-pilot.


NTSB Releases EgyptAir Flight 990 Final Report

March 21, 2002

Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of the crash of EgyptAir flight 990 was the airplane's departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the relief first officer's flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer's actions was not determined.

EgyptAir flight 990, a Boeing 767-366ER, SU-GAP, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts on October 31, 1999. The scheduled flight was being operated from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York, to Cairo International Airport, Cairo, Egypt. There were 14 crewmembers and 203 passengers. All on board were killed and the airplane was destroyed.

Because the crash occurred in international waters, the Egyptian government was initially responsible for the investigation under the provisions of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. However, the Egyptian government delegated the conduct of the investigation to the NTSB under the provisions of Annex 13.

The investigation into the cause of the crash has been quite extensive and has involved months of testing and research during which investigators evaluated various scenarios to determine the circumstances leading up to the crash.


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