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Investigators disagree over 2004 air crash cause

Written by: Staff

CAIRO, Mar 25 (Reuters) The Egyptian head of an investigation into the crash of a Boeing 737 into the Red Sea off Egypt in 2004 delivered today an inconclusive report on the disaster but a French investigator blamed the crew.

The Flash Airlines plane crashed shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt on January 3, 2004, killing all 148 people on board, most of them French tourists.

The report said the crew had been distracted by ''an event'', which may have caused the captain to become spatially disorientated.

The captain had asked: ''See what the plane did?'' It was not clear whether the captain had remained spatially disorientated, the report said.

The cause could have been a fault in spoilers on the plane's wings, its aileron or the autopilot system, the report said.

But French investigator Paul-Louis Arslanian told a news conference that human error had played a bigger part in the crash than any technical failure.

Speaking through an interpreter into Arabic, he said the cause of the crash was the crew's failure to act quickly.

Shaker Qilada, the Egyptian head of the investigation, said there was no direct evidence that the crew were to blame, and the report recommended a review of the plane's autopilot system.

It said flight data recorders showed the autopilot had engaged shortly after takeoff, but nearly a minute later and 10 seconds before the crash the first officer said ''No autopilot commander.'' ''After the time when the first officer announced: 'no autopilot commander,' the crew behaviour suggests that recovery attempts were consistent with expected crew reaction,'' a summary of the report said.

''The gravity of the upset condition ... made this attempt insufficient to achieve a successful recovery,'' it said.

''Based on data collected from different operators using this autopilot and the number of reports of unexpected autopilot behaviour, some of which are unexplained, reassessment of this autopilot system is recommended,'' the report said.

The operator's failure to record the aircraft's faults precisely may also have contributed to the crash, the report said.

The release of the report was delayed from last June because the investigators needed more time to complete their work.

Reuters SHR BD2107

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