At the end of a deep ocean search, surface ships have located a missing airliner, likely to be lying largely intact on the seabed.
One of the flight recorders aboard EgyptAir Flight 804 was reported to have been found this morning (Australian time) and retrieved from the depths.
The major section of the wreckage of the plane is lying deep on the floor of the Mediterranean, Egyptian authorities say. The aircraft, an A320, crashed a month ago, on 19 May 2016, on a flight from Paris to Cairo, killing all 66 people aboard.
The other flight recorder is being sought. There are two aboard, one to record cockpit conversation, the other to record flight data. It is hoped they may help establish what caused the plane to suddenly plunge to its doom from 36,000 feet.
The main locations of wreckage have been identified by the John Lethbridge, a specialist search boat chartered by the Egyptian Government.
The pieces of fuselage were found at “several sites”, the Egyptian board of inquiry said in a statement, but some experts believe most of the plane, possibly the whole fuselage (cabin) could be largely in one piece. That’s because very little floating debris of significant size has been found.
Clive Irving, senior consulting editor at Condé Nast specialising in aviation, and the author of the book “Wide-Body: The Triumph of the 747” points out that in the cases of Air France 447 and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, both of which crashed at sea, identifiable pieces of the aircraft were found floating – “albeit in the case of the Malaysian Boeing 777, turning up only after more than two years as flotsam on beaches”.
Writing in the Daily Beast, Irving says the absence of significant pieces of the Egyptian A320’s structure turning up as floating debris “suggests that most of the airplane is on the ocean bed”.
In an article with the rather unkind title: “EgyptAir 804 Found: Will the Professional French or Bumbling Egyptians Get It Next?”, Irvine says that learning the truth about what brought the plane down will depend most on who is in charge of the investigation.
He says the French accident investigation branch, the BEA, “fields one of the most proficient and trusted teams in the world”. In contrast “it has never been clear how the Egyptians themselves assign the responsibility of conducting an air crash investigation”, Irving’s article states.
Aviation safety teams are trying to work out whether the crash was caused by a technical failure or by an act of terrorism. Evidence suggests a sudden fire broke out immediately before the plane crashed into the Mediterranean, adding weight to a feeling among some researchers that malfunction may have brought the plane down, rather than a terrorist act.
Not that there are any conclusions yet. The investigation is ongoing (see: Fire or malfunction may have brought down MS804) and the discovery of the plane, and retrieval of one of its “black box” flight recorders, is a breakthrough.
MS804 disappeared soon after crossing from Greek into Egyptian airspace, after transmitting several automatic messages indicating smoke in the cabin.
Written by Peter Needham