Saturday, March 23, 2002


At the behest of the Egyptian Government, and at U.S. taxpayer expense, the NTSB has been raising additional pieces of the B-767 so analyses of other components of the wreckage can be made to see if mechanical malfunction contributed to the crash.

We at The Wolk Law Firm have been analyzing the aircraft hydraulic and flight control systems to learn if previously found flaws in other Boeing aircraft and those made by other manufacturers may have contributed to this accident.

Unlike the Boeing 737 rudder, three hydraulic actuators drive the elevators of the B-767 for each of the two panels, left and right. Therefore, it would appear at this time that a single point failure could not cause an elevator panel split or elevator pitch down in the manner suggested by the flight data recorder. For example, the autopilot was off by the time the elevator split was observed on the FDR data and there is no sign or mention of runaway elevator trim. Moreover, no pilot of any aircraft, including us, can account for the deliberate shutting down of both powerplants during the steep descent, when just pulling the power levers back to idle would have accomplished the same thing while making power available when needed once the descent was arrested.

While the NTSB has only selectively released FDR data and, therefore, the public conclusions cannot yet be tested by outside experts, further investigation and analyses are warranted to see if some unusual hydraulic or electrical malfunction would allow the elevators or either panel of them to move without physical manipulation of the control column.

In 1994, an incident was reported and investigated by the AAIB in England involving a B-747 which on takeoff suffered one of the four elevator panels to go to the down position, uncommanded by the flight deck crew. Fortunately, the other three panels were aerodynamically adequate to prevent a crash, but the incident was significant enough for the aircraft hydraulic system to be modified. The differences between the B-747 incident and the Boeing 767 flight controls are many, but this anomaly in the B-747 was a surprise, which means that vagaries in hydraulic flight controls and the role they may play in aircraft accidents, even the seemingly inexplicable ones, cannot be disregarded.

Here’s the responsible approach. The NTSB should hire experts in the field of aircraft flight controls and hydraulics to ascertain whether any one or more system malfunctions in the B-767 elevator could cause an uncommanded down elevator or elevator panel. If such a possibility exists, it must be tested against the reliable FDR data to see if that data is consistent with that type of malfunction. This would accomplish two things. First, it would restore shaken confidence in one of the world’s great airplanes. Second, if a malfunction scenario fits, immediate correction will prevent further accidents.

The NTSB was a little too quick to recommend the FBI investigate this accident as a criminal matter before doing much flight system evaluation. Little mention is made of the illegality of the captain leaving the flight deck without first asking one of the many pilots in the back to relieve him. The Boeing 767 is certificated to be flown by a minimum of two pilots, not one in the cockpit and another in the back. While the FAA and foreign certifying authorities wink at the practice, the thought of one person at the controls of an airplane certified to be flown by a minimum of two is scary either when one may be bent on murder/suicide, or faces an emergency that even two pilots may find insurmountable.

The Good Ole Boy Network is alive and well because no one in authority wants to rock the boat by prohibiting one pilot of a two pilot airplane from leaving the flight deck while in the air. Whenever I see it as a passenger, however, I hold my breath until both pilots are back in the cockpit because, while airplanes are much simpler today than when three pilots were mandated, in an emergency one pilot is often not enough. Who is to say whether the first officer of Egyptair 990 would even have attempted what he is alleged to have done if the Captain were on the flight deck and what result there would have been if the Captain had called for help before things got out of control.

We prepared three lawsuits against Egyptair arising out of this crash, and represent the families of seven victims.

2002 Schelpert vs. Egyptair
This was one of many cases The Wolk Law Firm handled arising from the tragic sabotage of Egyptair Flight 990 by its co-pilot. In what would be one of the earlier acts of terrorism preceding 9/11, and it was established by Arthur Wolk as one of the lead litigators on the plaintiffs’ steering committee that there was no mechanical cause that could explain the sudden gyrations of the Boeing 767 that preceded its break-up and crash into the Atlantic Ocean. It was also established that the co-pilot had a history of mental instability that was ignored by Egyptian authorities before the crash. In this instance The Wolk Law Firm represented the families of five persons who died in the crash. In one of the only cases tried from that accident, The Wolk Law Firm recovered more than two million dollars in a bench trial in a Federal Court in Los Angeles.

For further information contact Arthur Alan Wolk at 215-545-4220.