After two days of relentless searching by Greek, Egyptian, French and British military forces, the Egyptian military has finally reported finding debris from the Egyptair Flight MS804 that went down into the sea with 66 passengers and crew on board early on Thursday.
The Airbus A320 flight to Cairo was flying at 38,000 ft over the Mediterranean, when it swerved abruptly, first a 90 degrees left, then a full 360 degrees right, losing height abruptly and disappearing from radar.
Seats, luggage, clothes, yellow life jackets and body parts, including an arm, have been found in the Mediterranean about 185 miles north of Alexandria. The first pictures of the wreckage have been shared. The Airbus’ mangled blue metal panelling, still marked with EgyptAir branding, is testimony to the fact that the plane did crash into the sea.
The search crews continued to focus on the area where the debris was found to hunt for bodies and most importantly to recover the plane’s black boxes. The latest news report is that the black box has been recovered. This would have voice recordings of what happened in the cockpit and thus give vital clues to the true nature of the accident. Though the black boxes are sturdy and can withstand crash shocks as well as extreme changes of temperature the urgency was that the boxes be found within a month before the batteries run out otherwise all data would be lost.
Oceanographer Dr Simon Boxall from the University of Southampton had told the BBC that the area in which flight MS804 is presumed to have crashed is one of the deepest in the Mediterranean, with a depth of more than 3,000m (10,000ft) in some parts.
“If it is where this debris has been found then it sits on a boundary where the ocean floor is more like the Alps, very rugged and contoured.” These could block signals from the plane’s black box and also interfere with sonar from vessels searching for the wreckage, he added.
Satellites of the European Space Agency satellites had spotted an oil slick in the area where the flight went missing but the organisation said it might not be from the missing plane.
According to data given on air industry website Aviation Herald, there were smoke alarms from the toilet onboard and also from the plane’s electrical systems before communication was lost with the plane.
In confirmation of the report a spokesman of France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analysis said, “There were ACAR messages emitted by the plane indicating that there was smoke in the cabin shortly before data transmission broke off.” ACAR is an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System which digitally transmits short messages between aircraft and ground stations. According to ACAR, smoke alarms were sounding for almost three minutes before the plane began its rapid descent, which could signify a fire aboard the plane that caused it to crash.
According to CNN aviation analyst David Soucie, the ACARS screen grab provided information about smoke and heat on a window near the co-pilot and in the lavatory, which was behind the cockpit.
‘If there’s fire on board the aircraft, in this area which the ACARS indicates, then something was close to the cockpit,’ Mr Soucie said.’It could have been either something mechanical that had failed, a short circuit, or it could have been an incendiary device of some kind as well.’
He also said that if it was a bomb it would have ruptured the skin of the aircraft but that it would have been over fast and not carried on for minutes. He added that a fire in the front section of the plane may possibly have affected the communications equipment.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered to offer prayers for the victims of the air crash at the Al Sedeq mosque close to Cairo International Airport, and to offer condolences to their relatives. The Friday prayers ended with a symbolic coffin being carried out of the complex.
A shared sense of sadness and grief clouds the country as well as speculations as to the causes of the crash.
Many were quick to offer their solidarity to Egyptair after the news of the crash came in. Within hours, hashtag, I will only fly Egyptair, was created on social media.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has expressed his “utmost sadness and regret” at the disaster.