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Egypt: too soon for conclusions on MS804 crash

Warnings indicated intense smoke in the front portion of the plane, specifically the lavatory and the equipment compartment

Published: Updated:

Egyptian investigators looking into the crash of an EgyptAir jet in the Mediterranean said on Saturday they were analysing data including signals sent from the aircraft, but it was too soon to reach any conclusions.

They said in a statement they were assessing material from air traffic control, aircraft and crew documents, and aircraft data management systems AIRMAN and ACARS, which download maintenance and fault data to an airline operator.

"It is far too early to make judgments or decisions on a single source of information such as the ACARS messages, which are signals or indicators that may have different causes (and) thus require further analysis," the statement said.

Egyptian armed forces on Saturday released images of debris of the crashed EgyptAir jet.

The pictures showed passenger belongings and parts of the plane which crashed into the Mediterranean on Thursday.

The jet had sent a burst of error messages indicating that smoke had been detected on board before crashing, France's BEA air accident investigation agency said on Saturday, although this is yet to be confirmed by Egypt.

Image shows a life jacket belonging to the crashed EgyptAir jet. (Photo courtesy: Egyptian armed forces)

"These messages do not allow in any way to say what may have caused smoke or fire on board the aircraft," a spokesman for the agency said, adding that the messages indicated that smoke been detected towards the front of the cabin.

He said the priority now was to find the aircraft and its two flight recorders containing cockpit voice recordings and data readings. The Airbus A320 vanished from radar on its way to Cairo from Paris with 66 people on board.

The flight data was sent through an automatic system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which routinely downloads maintenance and fault data to the airline operating the aircraft.

Aviation website Aviation Herald published a burst of seven messages broadcast over the space of three minutes. These included alarms about smoke in the lavatory as well as the aircraft's avionics area, which sits under the cockpit.

While suggesting a possible fire, the relatively short sequence of data gives no insight into pilot efforts to control the aircraft, nor does it show whether it fell in one piece or disintegrated in mid-air, two aviation safety experts said.

The BEA is assisting an official investigation into the crash, which has been launched by Egypt's air crash investigation authority.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he and other officials - including representatives of Paris Aeroport, the French prosecutor, EgyptAir, and the Egyptian ambassador to Paris - had met with about 100 family members to express "our profound compassion" over the crash.

In a statement delivered to reporters following the meeting, he said: "All the hypotheses are being examined - none are being favored."
French air accident investigators are already in Cairo, he said.

Media reports

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said automated warning messages indicated smoke in the nose of the aircraft and an apparent problem with the flight control system.

The warnings, which were automatically sent by the Airbus A320's computer systems, came about 2:26 a.m. Thursday local time, just before air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane carrying 66 people, the Journal said.

The navy has been also sweeping the area looking for the plane's black box, the military said in a statement. REUTERS EGYPTAIR
The navy has been also sweeping the area looking for the plane's black box, the military said in a statement. REUTERS EGYPTAIR

The messages indicated intense smoke in the front portion of the plane, specifically the lavatory and the equipment compartment beneath the cockpit. The error warnings also indicated that the flight control computer malfunctioned, the report said.

CNN also reported smoke alerts on the flight minutes before it crashed, citing information it obtained from an Egyptian source that was filed through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, which sends messages between planes and ground facilities.

A relative of the victims of the EgyptAir flight 804 reacts as she makes a phone call at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, Thursday, May 19, 2016.
A relative of the victims of the EgyptAir flight 804 reacts as she makes a phone call at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Egypt's aviation minister has said a terrorist attack was a more likely cause than technical failure for the crash.

On Friday, search teams found wreckage including seats and luggage about 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt's military said.

The plane disappeared without any distress signal between the Greek island of Karpathos and the Egyptian coast.

It had turned sharply twice in Egyptian airspace before plunging 22,000 feet (6,700 meters) and vanishing from radar screens, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has said.

This is a April 2014 image of an EgyptAir Airbus A320 with the registration SU-GCC taking off from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey. (AP)
This is a April 2014 image of an EgyptAir Airbus A320 with the registration SU-GCC taking off from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey. (AP)

(Reuters and AFP)