Wednesday, November 24, 1999 8:46 PM SGT Egyptian press fears Boeing would influence EgyptAir probe

Egyptian press fears Boeing would influence EgyptAir probe

CAIRO, Nov 24 (AFP) -

State-run newspapers expressed fears here Wednesday that plane-builder Boeing and the US government would try to deny any blame for last month's EgyptAir crash and pin it on Egypt instead.

Mussawar magazine, Al-Ahram daily and other publications said the economic stakes were so high for Boeing and the United States that they would have a strong motive to influence the outcome of the crash probe.

"Why do the Americans exclude the possibility of a sudden technical breakdown?" asked the managing editor of the government-owned Al-Mussawar, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, who is close to President Hosni Mubarak.

"American interests could be extremely affected if it is proven that a sudden mechanical breakdown, a production mistake or an errant American missile is the cause of the crash," he wrote.

"A mechanical breakdown or a production error would amount to a painful blow to Boeing after an increase in crashes of its aircraft in the last two years and its market setbacks to European Airbus," Ahmed said.

"The United States would not allow Boeing to lose its reputation, because Boeing represents a greater US interest," he said.

To support its argument, Mussawar ran excerpts from a report in the US magazine Newsweek quoting a government official as saying: "Behind closed doors Boeing is pushing the cockpit-struggle theory as the likely cause of the crash."

"The technical shortcomings are one of the most important probabilities to consider," Al-Ahram said. "This is a strong probability, especially as the investigating authorities rush to throw the blame on the co-pilot."

Egypt reacted furiously last week after leaks from the investigation speculated that a co-pilot crashed the Boeing 767 into the Atlantic off Massachusetts on October 31 in an act of suicide and mass murder.

"The company's interest is as great as the attempts to put the blame for the crash on any other party, especially if we consider the fierce competition between (Boeing) and other airline manufacturers," it said.

The independent economic newspaper Al-Alam Al-Yom also accused Boeing of trying to twist the investigation.

On Monday, Egyptian Transportation Minister Ibrahim al-Dumeiri made the same charge, without mentioning the company by name.

The "airline production company" was interfering with the probe to protect itself, Dumeiri told parliament's transportation committee.

There was "a tendency and pressure to conclude that the accident was the result of an Egyptian mistake, but the documents have proven this tendency was wrong," he said without specifying which papers.

When an MP asked which party "tried to steer the accusations toward the Egyptians," Dumeiri replied: "It's the airline production company which tried to defend itself."

He said it was "trying to defend its production" and prove itself innocent.

"We are trying to reach the truth and protect our higher interests," Dumeiri said.

Dumeiri made the accusation while delivering the government's first report on the crash to the transportation committee of parliament, around 20 of whose members were present.

Egyptians in the street have also speculated that Boeing might try to protect itself in the investigation.