EgyptAir Crash-Probe Confirms Smoke, Soot -- Could Point to Fire

  • Flight-data recorder indicates smoke in lavatory, avionics bay
  • Wreckage from front of jet bears evidence of high temperatures

Investigators probing last month’s EgyptAir jetliner crash say analysis of the plane’s flight data recorder has revealed the presence of smoke in the cabin, while the wreckage bears evidence of soot and high temperatures.

The findings suggest that the May 19 tragedy, which killed all 66 people on board, involved some sort of fire and may indicate an electrical fault or other systems failure, though the investigators didn’t say whether terrorism is now regarded as less likely to have been the cause.

The Airbus Group SE A320’s data recorder indicates the presence of smoke in one of the lavatories and in the avionics bay, consistent with messages sent automatically by the jet’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System before it went down, Egypt’s civil-aviation ministry said in a statement.

At the same time, some of the wreckage recovered from the front section of the aircraft shows signs of high-temperature damage and soot, the ministry said. The sites where smoke was indicated are also in the jet’s forward section, with the avionics bay located beneath the cockpit.

“Analysis will be carried out to try to identify the source and reason for those signs,” the statement said. The Egyptian government said soon after the loss of the plane en route from Paris to Cairo that terrorism was likely to blame.

Deliberate or Not?

David Learmount, an air-safety expert and former Royal Air Force pilot, said the data confirms earlier findings but doesn’t yet narrow down the theories.

“From the heat, damage and soot we know there was a fire,” he said. “What we don’t know was what started it. Was it deliberate or not?”

Work is continuing on the decoding and validation of data recorded across more than 1,200 parameters, before investigators move to the next phase of reading and analyzing the data, the ministry said.

Preliminary information shows that the FDR, which is being analysed in Cairo, contains information on the entire flight until the recording stops at an altitude of 37,000 thousand feet, where the accident occurred, it said.

The plane’s cockpit voice recorder is still being repaired in Paris by the French BEA air-accident investigation bureau, a specialist in crashes involving planes made by Toulouse-based Airbus. Both black boxes were encrusted in salt from their time beneath the sea and were sent to France so that the deposits could be removed and circuits repaired.

The collection of human remains is meanwhile continuing at the wreckage location in the eastern Mediterranean, the ministry said.