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Pilot’s Death Wish Doomed Moroccan Plane; Romantic Problems Cited

August 25, 1994 GMT

RABAT, Morocco (AP) _ A Royal Air Maroc pilot was acting on a death wish when he deliberately crashed his plane into a mountainside, killing himself and the 43 other people aboard, investigators said Thursday.

A French news agency reported that he was distraught over his love life.

The copilot sent out a distress signal when it became apparent that disaster was at hand. But she was unable to stop her colleague from acting on his suicidal impulse.

Pilot Younes Khayati, 32, ″disconnected the automatic pilot and directed the aircraft toward the ground,″ a statement by an official inquiry commission said.

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The accident ″is due to the deliberate wish of the pilot to end his life,″ the commission said after examining the aircraft’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

The plane, a twin-engine ATR-42 turboprop flying at 11,480 feet, plunged into a downward spin and smashed into the Atlas mountains 10 minutes after takeoff.

″Help, help 3/8 The captain is...″ co-pilot Sofia Figugui screamed.

But her pleas, registered on flight recorders, were cut off, said French aeronautics officials who examined the equipment.

Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, reported that ″romantic reasons″ may have driven the pilot to end his life.

″The reasons for this crazy act lie solely in the romantic life of pilot Younes Khayati,″ the agency quoted sources close to the inquiry commission as saying.

Mohamed Mouffid, president of the investigative commission, said he could not confirm the agency’s report.

He said information registered on the cockpit recorder was confidential and could not be made public. ″The information given is largely sufficient,″ he said in a telephone interview.

The plane, which had undergone regular maintenance and equipment checks, did not malfunction and the weather did not pose problems, the statement said.

″The behavior of the pilot is all the more inexplicable considering he was an experienced pilot with 4,500 hours of flying time, and with confirmed professional aptitudes and physical condition,″ the commission’s statement said.

Khayati had been with the airline eight years and passed medical and piloting examinations last month, the commission said.

An airline group, the Moroccan Association of Navigators, said it was ″stupefied″ by the commission’s conclusions and demanded proof of the allegations.

The plane was flying from the southern city of Agadir to Casablanca. All 40 passengers and four crew were killed when it went down, including an American, a Kuwaiti prince and eight Italians.

Victims were dismembered, many beyond recognition, said a spokeswoman for ATR, Elisabeth Broge.

The impact was ″extremely violent,″ she told The Associated Press in a telephone interiew. ″There were all these splinters and all these pieces.″

ATR said it would issue a full report on the disaster and the reasons for the pilot’s suicide ″at a later date.″

In Italy, several Italian senators asked the government to brief parliament on the disaster.

An editorial in Friday’s editions of La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno of Bari cast doubt on the suicide explanation and suggested it may be a ″convenient thesis″ for the airline builder and Morocco’s tourist industry.

Twenty foreigners were on the plane, and the tourism industry was not helped when gunmen killed two Spaniards in a holdup at a major Marrakesh hotel on Wednesday.

In 1982, a pilot for Japan Airlines deliberately crashed his DC-8 plane on landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, killing 24 people. He was later declared mentally unstable.

Aeronautics sources said the increasing computerization of aircraft has made it more difficult for one person to commandeer a plane.