EgyptAir Crash Team Recovers Vital Flight-Data Recorder

  • Second black box retrieved with ‘most important’ memory unit
  • Voice recorder had already been found and brought to surface

Air-crash investigators have retrieved the flight-data recorder from the EgyptAir jet lost over the Mediterranean four weeks ago with its 66 passengers and crew, advancing efforts to determine what caused the tragedy.

The so-called black box, which stores detailed records of a plane’s path as well as its mechanical systems and computers, was recovered by the same search vessel that found the Airbus Group SE aircraft’s cockpit-voice recorder earlier this week, Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a statement Friday.

The “most important” memory unit from the data device was among the parts salvaged, according to the ministry, which has also said that the voice box memory was intact.

Analysis of the two recorders should help reveal why Flight MS804 crashed into the sea en route to Cairo from Paris on May 19. While pings from the black boxes were detected two weeks ago, their transmitters had sufficient battery power to last only until about June 24.

Manipulator Arms

Egypt announced the retrieval of the second recorder less than 48 hours after revealing that a debris field from lost aircraft had been located on the seabed.

Both devices were retrieved by the SV John Lethbridge, a vessel hired from Deep Ocean Search Ltd. that carries scanning sonars and a remotely-operated vehicle equipped with high-resolution cameras that work at depths of as much as 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). The ROV also wields manipulator arms to aid salvage efforts.

The black-box pings were detected by the French Navy survey vessel Laplace using torpedo-shaped Detector 6000 listening systems from Paris-based search specialist Alcen, which are dragged beneath the ship and can “hear” signals from 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.

Previous attempts to find the jet with a submarine were hampered by an ill-defined search area and waters thought to be more than 3,000 meters deep.

Mystery Remains

Egypt will continue to lead the crash probe, according to the BEA, France’s air-accident investigator, though the European agency is likely to play a key role in analyzing the recorders given its expertise involving jets built by Toulouse-based Airbus. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also joined the investigation this month.

If the two recorders are in good condition, analysis of their contents will begin immediately in Cairo, Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said in a later statement on Friday. They will be sent overseas if they are seriously damaged, it said.

Experts remain unclear about what destroyed the A320. While human remains found earlier may indicate a catastrophic incident such as a bomb, bodies can be rent apart when a jet suffers a structural failure, or hits the ground or sea.

A string of error messages sent automatically minutes before the A320 disappeared indicate that smoke had been detected beneath the cockpit and in a lavatory, and that windows next to the co-pilot’s seat may have malfunctioned, together with unspecified issues with flight computers.

While those readings might be explained in terms of a bomb blast, they could equally have resulted from a fire and associated electrical failure. Radar images suggest the plane also veered sharply left and then circled right before plunging into the sea. The pilots didn’t trigger a distress signal.

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