EgyptAir flight MS804: One more aviation mystery

This August 21, 2015 photo shows an EgyptAir Airbus A320 with the registration SU-GCC taking off. (AP)

Egypt has been associated with aircraft incidents for a while, starting with the crash of a Russian plane over the Sinai Peninsula in Oct. 2015, the hijacking of an EgyptAir domestic flight in March 2016, and finally the disappearance of an EgyptAir flight heading from Paris to Cairo on May 19, 2016. The media’s use of the word “missing” implies that the fate of the aircraft remains unknown, but possibilities other than a crash are practically ruled out.

Serafeim Petrou, head of the Greek Air Traffic Controllers Board, said no other alternative was possible: “I consider it a fact that the plane has crashed. There is no chance of it still being in the air. Most probably, and very unfortunately, it is at the bottom of the sea.” The debris found by the Egyptian Armed Forces off the coast of Alexandria backs this hypothesis. The question, therefore, shifts from what happened to the plane to how it happened.

Technical error

Colonel Hatem Saber, an expert in international terrorism, said it was extremely unlikely for the aircraft to fall that fast, and thus disappear, due to a technical error: “Air Bus 320 is a medium-range aircraft with high maneuverability, and even if the engines are turned off the pilot can still control it. For the aircraft to fall from an altitude of 22,000 feet, something else must have happened.” He said a plane would not suddenly go off radar except when there is an explosion that rips it apart.

CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien had a similar view: “It’s very difficult to come up with a scenario that jibes with some sort of catastrophic failure.” He added that the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the aircraft “lead us down the road to a deliberate act.”

Jad Alkareem Nasser, a pilot and former head of the Egyptian Airports Company, said the only technical error that could make the aircraft fall suddenly was the separation of the tail: “Other problems related to the engine, fuel pumps or generators can be solved by the crew, and the aircraft can then land in the nearest airport and can even continue its scheduled trip. The EgyptAir plane could have landed in Athens, for example.”

 

Bomb

Philip Giles, of the UK Air Accidents Investigations Branch, said a “Lockerbie-style” bombing might have caused the crash: “It’s a real mystery, but it sounds at this early stage that there could have been a device, placed on the plane earlier at another airport in some kind of Lockerbie situation.”

He added that this device could have been planted on board the plane in Paris despite tight security at Charles De Gaulle: “We may see a focus on the air-side staff there in the coming days.” It could have also been planted earlier at another airport, Giles said.

Ihab Mohei, director of the Egyptian Aviation Company, said the Egyptian Air Traffic Control Authority did not receive a distress signal from the aircraft: “Whenever the pilot loses control over the aircraft or feels that the aircraft is in danger, he sends a signal that is immediately received by all the radars, but this did not happen here.”

Aeronautics expert Gérard Feldzer said in the case of a technical error, the pilot would have had time to send a distress call, which takes a few seconds. “That is why a bomb seems like the probable scenario.”

Weather

The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation‬ issued a statement that there were no weather issues in the area where the aircraft disappeared. Air accidents investigator David Newbery supported this view: “There doesn’t appear to be bad weather over there.”

However, he said this did not necessarily mean it was a terrorist attack, since the sudden disappearance suggests a fatal technical problem that led the plane to explode or break up in the sky: “If the primary radar just completely dropped off, it could be a catastrophic break up of some kind… It could be a number of things.”

Age

EgyptAir aviation expert Hossam Elhami said the aircraft had “been working since 2003. We have planes that date back to many years before and they are still in service.” He added that a plane could operate perfectly for 15-20 years. “It is also not one of the planes that experienced a lot of technical problems, because those that do are no longer in service.”

Elhami said the only hopeful scenario of a plane that disappears from radar is a process termed “ditching” or water landing, where the plane makes an emergency landing on a body of water, the Mediterranean in this case.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:58 - GMT 10:58
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