Cockpit voice recorder from EgyptAir jet found

A French Navy official said Thursday that the Laplace has finished its mission in agreement with Egyptian authorities

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The cockpit voice recorder from the EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean last month has been found and pulled from the waters, Egypt’s investigation committee said on Thursday.

However, the investigators added that the recorder had been damaged. It was not immediately clear whether the device could shed any light on the cause of the crash, which took place on May 19 between the Greek island of Crete and the Egyptian coast, killing all 66 people on board. Many officials suggested terrorism was the most likely cause.

The Egyptian committee said the so-called black box - one of the two on board the plane - has been damaged but that the vessel searching for the wreckage managed to safely recover the “memory unit, which is the most important in the recorder.”

The recorder was retrieved in “several stages,” the committee said, and is currently being transferred to the Egyptian port city of Alexandria. Once on shore, it will be handed over to the members of the committee who will unload and analyze the data.

The voice recorder should contain a record of the last 30 minutes in the cockpit, and is equipped to detect even loud breathing. Experts say that it takes nearly 48 hours to retrieve data from the recorder, unless it’s damaged.

Late on Wednesday, Egyptian officials said they had detected the plane, nearly two weeks after the French ship Laplace detected black box signals from the missing jet. On Thursday, a specialized undersea vessel was tasked with retrieving the recorder.

Locator pings emitted by flight data and cockpit voice recorders can be picked up from deep underwater. The Laplace is equipped with three detectors designed to pick up those signals, which in the case of the EgyptAir plane are believed to be at a depth of some 3,000 meters (9,842 feet). By comparison, the wreckage of the Titanic is lying at a depth of some 3,800 meters (12,500 feet).

Time running out

Ten days later, Egyptian investigators said that time is running out in the search for the black boxes. They said on Sunday that nearly two weeks remain before the batteries of the flight's data and cockpit voice recorders expire and they stop emitting signals.

If retrieved, the boxes could reveal whether a mechanical fault, a hijacking or a bomb caused the disaster. The voice recorder should contain a record of the last 30 minutes in the cockpit, and is equipped to detect even loud breathing.

The data recorder would contain technical information on the engines, wings and cabin pressure. Investigators hope the black boxes will offer clues as to why there was no distress call.

Finding them without the signals is possible but more difficult.

Last October, a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. A local affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft just hours after the crash. In November, Russia said an explosive device brought down the aircraft.

The two disasters have unsettled authorities at the Cairo airport, where false alarms or bomb threats have caused lengthy delays to flights and at least one cancellation last week.

Security has also been considerably tightened at Egypt's 20-plus airports since the Russian plane crash, with passengers now subjected to roughly the same security measures in force at major international airports.

(With Reuters and the Associated Press)