Egypt Admits Loss Of
High-Ranking Officers
In 990 Crash
CAIRO(Reuters) - Egyptian authorities on Tuesday lifted a news blackout, permitting Egyptian media to confirm foreign reports that senior military officers were on board the Egyptair flight that plunged into the Atlantic on SUnday, killing all 217 people on board.
"Egyptian sources said that a number of officers of different ranks and from various branches of the armed forces were among the victims of the plane that crashed off the U.S. eastern coast," the official daily al-Gomhuria said.
It was the first time that local media had reported the military presence on the plane, after aviation and security sources told Reuters on Monday that more than 30 officers -- most of them high-ranking -- were on the plane that crashed killing all 217 people on board.
Local media had earlier been censored from reporting that the officers were on board the flight, Egyptian reporters said.
U.S. defence officials also confirmed the report, but said most of the group, in the United States for training, had not been senior-level officers,
"Defence Secretary (William) Cohen spoke with Marshal Tantawi (Egyptian Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi) on the telephone this morning and expressed his deep condolences," one senior Pentagon official told Reuters.
The official said some of the Egyptians were army pilots who had been undergoing training in flying AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopters.
Egypt is one of Washington's biggest military and political allies in the Middle East, and the two countries exchange dozens of officers annually in training programmes as well as taking part in joint military exercises. Egypt has billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment in its defence arsenal.
The Egyptian Defence Ministry and other government officials would not comment on the report.
One security source in Cairo said the group included four Air Force officers, two brigadiers-general, a colonel and a major. There were also at least two army majors-general, one brigadier, four colonels and two lieutenant-colonels.
"Three of the officers went on board the plane without being checked in," one of the aviation sources said, without explaining why.
The cause of the crash has not been established. U.S. aviation authorities did not receive any distress call.
The U.S. Coast Guard abandoned its search for survivors on Monday and shifted efforts to recovering bodies and debris before bad weather set in.
Coast Guard ships received a "ping signal" indicating the location of one of the plane's two flight data recorders, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee said, but pinpointing the exact site would be difficult in the 250-foot (76 metre) deep water.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Oslo that he was not aware of any threats against airlines flying out of the United States. He said until more of the plane was recovered, the cause of the crash could not be determined.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also played down suggestions of sabotage.
"Sabotage? I don't think that. Or a terrorist act? I don't think that, but I cannot foretell. We are waiting until the investigation comes to an end," he told CNN television.