This Time, All Eyes Are Going to Be on Boeing

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If the Sunday morning crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 is found not to be caused by terrorist action or pilot error, it is sure to turn up the already searing heat on the plane's manufacturer, Boeing. The disaster comes just days after the world's largest airplane maker was severely criticized by federal aviation regulators for not disclosing information that would have helped in the investigation of the eerily similar 1996 crash of a Boeing 747, that of TWA Flight 800. That accident was believed to have been caused by a fuel tank explosion; late last week, the National Transportation Safety Board excoriated Boeing for not disclosing tests done on a military version of the 747 which indicated potential fuel tank problems. In the EgyptAir crash, the plane was at the end of its ascent, just over half an hour after leaving New York's JFK Airport, when it disappeared from radar screens. All 217 aboard are believed to be dead. It was the second fatal accident for a 767; in May 1991, a Lauda Air flight went down after one of its engine thrust reversers deployed during a climb, killing all 10 crew and 213 passengers.

By Sunday evening, as might be expected when an aircraft disappears in deep waters, there were no immediate answers. And President Clinton, on his way to Oslo Sunday for Middle East peace talks, issued a statement asking people not jump to conclusions until the crash has been adequately investigated. But with the crash coming less than two weeks after an EgyptAir flight from Istanbul to Cairo was hijacked to Germany and the fact that this accident happened in such similar circumstances to the downing of TWA Flight 800 three years ago, theories are bound to come fast and furious. Following the Flight 800 disaster, speculation about the crash, ranging from terrorist attack to a U.S. missile gone awry to a wayward asteroid, quickly permeated the newspapers and airwaves. With the recent revelations about Boeing's apparent reluctance in revealing the results of its own research, the integrity of Boeing's planes is bound to be at the top of speculators' -- and investigators' -- lists.