More evidence collected from MS804 crash in Mediterranean, search for black boxes continues

Additional evidence attributed to the crash of EgyptAir flight MS804 has been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday – according to the Egyptian Armed Forces. On his official webpage, the spokesperson for the Armed Forces posted photos of what are said to be fragments of the airplane, life vests, and passengers’ personal belongings, along with a video documenting Egypt’s ongoing search operations in the sea.

The airplane’s black boxes have yet to be located. While many news outlets have speculated as to the cause of the deadly crash – pointing to a possible technical failure, deliberate sabotage, a struggle in the cockpit, or the pilot’s suicide – the black boxes are the only reliable way to verify the exact causes of the crash.

On Friday, reports emerged from the Aviation Herald indicating that smoke detectors and alarms sounded in one of the plane’s toilets, and may have quickly spread to the aircraft’s electronic systems. A few minutes later, all signals from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) were reportedly lost.

The airplane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will prove instrumental in identifying the exact conditions leading up to its crash.

On Friday, EgyptAir’s official Twitter account posted information indicating that the Egyptian Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy had discovered more debris from flight MS804 including “passengers’ belongings, body parts, luggage, and aircraft seats.” It added that the “search is still in progress.”

EgypAir’s official website offered its “sympathy and condolences to all those touched by the tragic loss of flight MS804.”

On its Twitter account, the state-owned airline commented that “the company has resorted to foreign experts in the field of aviation accidents in order to assist and advise the families of the martyrs of the EgyptAir flight.”

EgyptAir added, that, according to these foreign experts, “the process of collecting body parts may take a long time, perhaps weeks, as it would require DNA analysis” in order to confirm passengers’ identities.

The missing EgyptAir Airbus A320 was en route to Cairo from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport in the early hours of Thursday, May 19, when it disappeared from radar and lost contact with air traffic control approximately 16 kilometers into Egyptian airspace.

Recap of what we know:

How the plane went missing

  • The missing plane took off from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle just after 11:00 pm, Central European Time, on Wednesday, May 18. It was scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Thursday, just after 3:00 am local time, as per the usual flight schedule.
  • At 1:48 am Egypt local time, Greek air traffic control transferred the flight to the next air traffic control sector and cleared it for exit from Greek airspace, according to a timeline issued by Greece’s civil aviation department. This is the last time Greek air traffic control was able to contact EgyptAir flight MS804.
  • At 2:29 am, the aircraft exited Greek airspace and, at 2:39, the aircraft’s signal was lost, approximately 280 kilometers north of the Egyptian coastline, according to the Greek timeline. After the aircraft’s signal went missing, Greek air traffic controllers initiated search and rescue processes at 2:45 am, notifying the Flight Information Region of Cairo at the same time.
  • At a press conference held on Thursday in Athens, Greece’s Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos stated that the plane made “sudden swerves,” 90 degrees to the left and then 360 degrees to the right, before falling, according to radar data. Greek defense sources told the Guardian that the plane conducted these maneuvers between 2:27 am and 2:29 am.

The passengers

  • The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew members, including two infants and a child. Of these passengers, there were 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqi nationals, and one passenger from the UK, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.
  • The French Embassy in Cairo told Mada Masr that relatives of some of the French passengers had arrived in Cairo on Thursday evening on an EgyptAir flight and were welcomed by a delegation from the embassy. The embassy has stated it will not release the names of the French nationals on board the flight until further information is released regarding the state of the plane.
  • Mada Masr spoke with a representative of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry, who confirmed that one Portuguese national was on board the plane. This passenger has been identified as a 62-year-old civil engineer who was due to transit in Cairo International Airport on route to Ghana for work.
  • The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper reported that a female Saudi passenger was also onboard flight MS804. This passenger has been identified as Sahar Khoja, a 52-year-old Saudi diplomat who worked with the Egyptian Embassy in Riyadh.
  • According to EgyptAir’s Twitter account, the company’s chairman Hisham al-Nahas met with relatives of a number of the Egyptian and foreign national passengers on Friday morning to debrief them about the situation.

Search and rescue

  • Egyptian reconnaissance planes and boats deployed by the Armed Forces found wreckage from missing EgyptAir flight MS804 290 kilometers north of Alexandria’s coastline early Friday morning, according to the Egyptian Armed Forces spokesperson. The air and naval forces found “passengers’ belongings as well as the plane’s debris in an area 290 kilometers north of Alexandria. The search is continuing,” according to the statement.
  • Greek state television announced on Thursday afternoon that debris from the missing plane had been found at 230 nautical miles west of the island of Crete. However, EgyptAir denied these reports on its Twitter account, saying that after contacting the relevant authorities, they were not able to confirm the news. Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy also denied the news.

Investigation

  • According to the French Embassy in Cairo, three experts from the French Civil Aviation Authority’s Office of Investigations and Accidents of the French Ministry of Civil Aviation and one expert from Airbus SAS arrived in Cairo on the evening of Thursday, May 18, to meet with the Egyptian investigation team to conduct a technical investigation.
  • On Thursday, Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered an official investigation into the missing aircraft, stating that the State Security Prosecution would lead the investigation. The French Embassy in Cairo stated that the investigation would be conducted in collaboration with French prosecution and police as the plane departed from French sovereign territory.

Official response

  • French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told French television on Friday morning that no conclusion has yet been drawn concerning the crash.
  • In a brief speech on Thursday morning, French President François Hollande confirmed that the missing EgyptAir plane had crashed and announced an official investigation into the crash in cooperation with Egypt and Greece.
  • Shortly after Hollande’s comments, Fathy held a press conference in Cairo, stating, “Allow me to use the term ‘missing plane’ until we find its remains. We don’t know why French authorities confirmed the aircraft crashed. For us, it is missing until its remains are found.”
  • At a press conference on Thursday, Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail stated that no reasons should be ruled out for the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804, including terrorism.
  • On Thursday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for an emergency meeting with Egypt’s National Security Council to discuss developments concerning the disappeared plane.
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