EgyptAir flight 990, United Airlines flight 93 families sought for reporting project

When passengers boarded EgyptAir flight 990, departing New York City early Halloween morning in 1999, it’s likely no one predicted one of their pilots was plotting his revenge against the airlines by driving the plane into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff. At least that’s one version of the story.

The Egypt government disputes the conclusion reached through the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation determining that pilot Gameel Al-Batouti crashed the aircraft on purpose, killing all 217 people on board. Investigators reached this conclusion after carefully reviewing data and audio recorders from the plane’s black boxes. Egyptian officials say there is no way the seasoned pilot, nearing retirement, would have committed suicide and mass murder, and they say a mechanical malfunction must be to blame.

The safety board uses this tragedy as an example of why it wants the Federal Aviation Administration to require video or image recorders in the cockpits of large commercial and even some small airplanes (click here to read the NTSB recommendation). With the help of images, they could conclude investigations faster and find out more, which means family members of those who die in plane crashes would have clearer answers, and sooner.

Some family members are still perplexed by the events of that night. Jim Brokaw, who lost his father and stepmother in the EgyptAir crash, founded Families of EgyptAir 900, and a website for the victims’ families to speak to each other about their loss. The site is no longer active.

In a National Geographic Channel program titled “Air Crash Investigation,” some family members talked openly about those they lost in the EgyptAir crash. The episode can be watched in segments on youtube (click here).

As the recipient of a News21 journalism fellowship, I will be reporting on the issue of image recorders in cockpits this summer, and I am searching for family members of victims killed in the EgyptAir crash to round out my reporting. There are other crashes that could have been better understood with image recorders, such as the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, United Airlines flight 93. My hope is that those families might want to talk about the issue of image recorders, too. I also want to speak to families who have lost someone in a small, non-commercial airplane crash, but still aren’t entirely sure why because the plane lacked recording devices.

I understand this is a sensitive topic for these family members and would like to approach them with the utmost respect and kindness while also gaining enough information to write compelling and useful journalism. If anyone can help, please contact me by e-mail:

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