Flight 990 Carried Egyptian
Military Officers - Pentagon
WASHINGTON - About 30 Egyptian military officers were aboard EgyptAir Flight 990 when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Nantucket with 217 people on board, U.S. defense officials said Monday.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, said the Egyptians from different branches of that country's military had been in the United States for training and were heading home when the airliner crashed Sunday, apparently killing all aboard.
"Defense Secretary (William) Cohen spoke with Marshal Tantawi (Egyptian Defense 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 programs as well as taking part in joint military exercises. Egypt has billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment in its defense arsenal.
In Cairo, aviation and security sources said more than 30 officers " most of them high-ranking " were on board the airliner. But U.S. military officials said most of the group were not senior-level officers.
Egyptian Defense Ministry and other government officials would not comment on the report.
One security source in Cairo said the group represented various branches of the armed forces and included four Air Force officers, two brigadiers-general, a colonel and a major.
"Three of the officers went on board the plane without being checked in,'' one of the aviation sources said, without explaining why.
Newspapers in Cairo were censored from reporting the presence of the officers on the flight, Egyptian reporters said.
The cause of the crash has not been established. U.S. aviation authorities did not receive any distress call.
Coast Guard cutters scoured the seas through the night, but picked up only small bits of wreckage and personal items.
Only one body had been recovered by late Monday morning.
President 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.