Egyptian officials: EgyptAir jet didn’t swerve before crash

Nabil Sadek was requesting documents, audio and video records

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Egyptian officials did not see any swerving by EgyptAir before its crash, the head of the country’s National Navigation Services Company told the local private broadcaster CBC on Monday, contradicting comments made by the Greek defence minister.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said on Friday that Greek radar had picked up sharp swings in the jet’s trajectory as it plunged from a cruising altitude to 15,000 feet, then vanishing from radars.

French investigators also said the plane sent a series of warnings indicating that smoke had been detected on board shortly before it disappeared.

The signals did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire, and aviation experts have not ruled out either deliberate sabotage or a technical fault.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials were also able to track the plane for one minute before it crashed but were unable to communicate with the crew, the head of Egypt’s National Navigation Services Company told CBC.

Air accident investigator Hani Galal also told CBC on Monday that the contents of the black box from the EgyptAir jet that crashed on Thursday will be analyzed in Egypt if it is found intact, and the recorder will be sent abroad for analysis if it is found in a damaged state.

French ship joins

A French ship joined the international effort to hunt for the black boxes and other wreckage of EgyptAir Flight 804 Monday, searching for clues to what brought the plane down, as Greek and Egyptian authorities diverged on what happened to the plane during the crucial final minutes before it crashed into the Mediterranean, killing all 66 people on board.

Five days after the air disaster, questions remain over what happened to the doomed jet before it disappeared off radar at around 2.45 a.m. local time Thursday.

Egyptian authorities said they believe terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure, and some aviation experts have said the erratic flight reported by the Greek defense minister suggests a bomb blast or a struggle in the cockpit. But so far no hard evidence has emerged.

A 2013 report by the Egyptian ministry of civil aviation records that the same Airbus 320 made an emergency landing in Cairo that year, shortly after taking off on its way to Istanbul, when one of the engines “overheated.”

Aviation experts have said that overheating is uncommon yet is highly unlikely to cause a crash.

Technical constraints

Teams searching for the black box flight recorders face technical constraints that aviation experts increasingly blame on a slow regulatory response to earlier disasters.

As a three-year deep-sea search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 draws towards a close in the Indian Ocean without finding the airplane, another is starting in the Mediterranean Sea where the lessons of previous crashes have yet to be applied.

Rescuers have barely 30 days until the batteries die on two underwater beacons designed to guide them to the black box flight recorders as they scour 17,000 square kilometers of sea north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

After previous crashes at sea, regulators agreed to increase the transmission time and range of such beacons to increase the chances of finding evidence and preventing future accidents.

The changes, trebling the life of the ‘pingers’ to 90 days, were first recommended by French investigators in late 2009, six months after the crash of an Air France plane in the Atlantic.

But they do not come into effect until 2018: too late to help find EgyptAir 804.

Delays in implementing the changes to the beacons to extend their battery life and improve the chances of finding the black boxes have been criticized by a number of experts including the former head of the French BEA agency, which is helping the search for Egyptair.

‘Pretty scandalous’

“The battery situation is pretty scandalous,” Jean-Paul Troadec, who headed the French government BEA air accident investigative agency during much of the Air France probe, told Reuters.

“It hardly costs anything to install new batteries. There was no reason to wait until 2018.”

In the first days after a crash at sea, the priority is to use passive devices capable of listening for the pinger’s clicking pulse. Once these die, searchers must use sonar devices and robots, which are costly and time-consuming. It took two years to find Air France 447 in the Atlantic this way.

“You can imagine the pressure this 30-day deadline creates,” Troadec said.

Manufacturers say that implementing the recommendations to extend the life of a beacon is not just a simple switch.

“Industry does not develop technology overnight and for the aircraft manufacturers to be ready, two years seems reasonable,” a spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said.

The search for EgyptAir’s Airbus A320 is especially challenging because its wreckage lies in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean, at a depth of 2,000-3,000 meters which is on the edge of the range for hearing pinger signals.

That may mean towing hydrophones more than a mile below the surface, using specialist devices that are in short supply.

This task could have been made easier by other still-pending safety proposals. In 2009, the BEA suggested black-box makers add a new, lower frequency that carries further and is easier for military vessels - typically first on the scene - to spot.

European regulator EASA has ordered airlines to fit the longer-range devices from the start of 2019, almost a decade after the crash that first inspired the change.

To many, such slow progress highlights the regulatory problems facing the aviation industry which is struggling to adapt to a series of accidents including the loss of MH370 with 239 people on board, the shooting down of another Malaysian aircraft over Ukraine in 2014 and last year's crash by a Germanwings pilot who flew his plane into the French Alps.

Despite the high-profile plane crashes, regulators say flying remains exceptionally safe, thanks in part to a unique system of standardized rules overseen by the United Nations.

Egypt prosecutor seeks data

Egypt’s Public Prosecutor has asked his French counterpart to hand over data on the crashed EgyptAir plane during its stay at Charles de Gaulle airport and until it left French airspace, his office said in a statement on Monday.

Nabil Sadek was requesting documents, audio and video records, it said. He has also asked Greek authorities to hand over transcripts of calls between the pilot and Greek air traffic control officials, and for the officials to be questioned over whether the pilot sent a distress signal.