Flt. 990 Co-Pilot Faced
Big Medical Bills -
Colleagues Call
Suicide Talk 'Rubbish'
From James Bone In NY
And Grace Bradberry In LA

....Captain Hassan Hamza, an Airbus A320 pilot with EgyptAir, said that suicide was haraam, meaning religiously forbidden. "If you commit suicide in our religion, you are not a Muslim. You will go to hell." Captain Mohammed Badrawi, an EgyptAir pilot, said speculation concerning Battouti was "utter rubbish".....
The co-pilot suspected of deliberately ditching EgyptAir Flight 990 into the sea was identified yesterday as a former Egyptian Air Force aviator who was nearing retirement and was facing large medical bills for his daughter's hospital treatment in Los Angeles.
Despite the insistence of Egyptian newspapers that a good Muslim would never commit suicide, US investigators believe that Gamil al-Battouti, 59, is the man whose voice was captured by the cockpit voice recorder uttering a prayer in Arabic moments before the plane went into its fatal plunge.
First Officer Battouti was listed as the relief co-pilot and was due to take over from Captain Adel Anwar later in the New York-Cairo flight. Investigators believe that he came in to the cockpit soon after take-off saying that he wanted to fly and took Captain Anwar's seat beside Ahmed al-Habashi, the lead pilot.
When Captain Habashi left the cockpit shortly after take-off, Battouti was heard muttering the Muslim declaration: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet," followed by the phrase, "I put my faith in your hands."
The shihada, or Muslim statement of faith, provoked considerable controversy yesterday as Egyptian experts insisted that it would be spoken by any pious Muslim in a crisis, and could even be used before performing an everyday task. The US National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jim Hall agreed to postpone any decision to declare the investigation a criminal case, and hand it over to the FBI, until a team of Egyptian experts could fly from Cairo to review the cockpit tape.
The initial analysis was said to have been performed by CIA Arabic experts from Lebanon who may not be intimately familiar with the nuances of Egyptian dialect, and the NTSB said there remained "significant differences over the cultural interpretation of some of the expressions".
After synchronising the cockpit voice recorder with the flight data recorder, however, US investigators believe that Mr Battouti uttered his prayer before there was any sign of trouble and suspect that he then switched off the autopilot and throttled back the engines to put the aircraft into a steep dive.
Mr Battouti, who was due to retire in March, was a father of five. His eight-year-old daughter Aya is being treated periodically for the immune disorder lupus erythematosis by a rheumatologist at the UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles. The illness causes inflammatory joint disease, causing pain similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis.
A religious man who last year performed the haj pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife, Mr Battouti had planned to take Aya to the US again this month, where she is treated every six months. "She was everything to him," his brother-in-law, Essam Dahi said. "Only God will be able to give her the kind of love her father offered."
He also said that he recently asked his brother-in-law if he ever got frightened flying over the Atlantic. Mr Battouti had replied: "We see our deaths every day over the ocean."
One EgyptAir colleague, Medhat al Kadah, also disclosed that Mr Battouti had become depressed and that "his mood since 30 days ago was different, sad".
Omaima al-Dahi, Mr Battouti's wife, said the couple faced sizeable medical bills from the American hospital and had no insurance to pay them, although a nephew, Walid, said the family had EgyptAir medical insurance. Mohammed al-Battouti, the co-pilot's son, denied that the family had any financial problems. EgyptAir pilots make an average of $8,800 (£5,500) a month while co-pilots are paid an average of $1,760 monthly, nearly 20 times the average Egyptian salary of about $90. A spokesman for the UCLA Medical Centre refused to confirm that Mr Battouti's daughter had been receiving out-patient treatment at the hospital, citing patient confidentiality.
Captain Hassan Hamza, an Airbus A320 pilot with EgyptAir, said that suicide was haraam, meaning religiously forbidden. "If you commit suicide in our religion, you are not a Muslim. You will go to hell." Captain Mohammed Badrawi, an EgyptAir pilot, said speculation concerning Battouti was "utter rubbish".
Egyptian Media Reject Suicide
From MIcheal Theodoulou In Nicosia And Peter Shaw-Smith 11-18-99
EGYPT'S state-owned press sprang to the defence yesterday of Flight Officer Gamil al-Battouti, describing him as a martyr.
Much of the country's media refused to accept the possibility that a suicidal crew member might have been responsible for the EgyptAir crash until its own investigators had examined all the evidence.
A new team of experts and translators was dispatched to Washington to help to analyse cockpit conversations taped in the flight's last moments. It was believed to include colleagues of the flight-deck crew familiar with their voices and characters.
Some Egyptian newspapers accused Washington of trying to absolve Boeing of any responsibility, while one said the rush to judgment was typical of America's "fast food mentality".
Captioning a picture of the pilot with the word "martyr", editions of Cairo's evening paper Al-Messa said: "This is al-Battouti - the man accused of suicide." It said that he was "balanced physically and mentally" and "at the highest level of professional ability".
There was no mention in the local reports that Mr Battouti was deeply in debt to a California hospital for the treatment for his eight-year-old daughter who was suffering from a serious illness.
Al-Ahram called for investigations into the disaster to be speedily concluded to calm fears over questions of responsibility for the crash.
Egypt's official press strongly contested speculation that the flight- crew member muttering a religious phrase meant that the man was preparing to bring down the plane in a suicide bid, taking all 217 passengers and crew with him. Cultural misunderstandings or even prejudice were to blame if US investigators had jumped to that conclusion, commentators said.
Egyptian newspapers carried a report by the official Middle East News Agency insisting that there was nothing suspicious about the religious utterance. The shihada, a declaration of faith in Islam, was "normal in times of crisis or when a plane experiences an emergency", it said.