EgyptAir flight data show smoke alerts before crash: Source

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

A picture taken on September 30, 2015 shows an Egypt Air plane on the tarmac of Cairo international Airport. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

There were smoke alerts aboard EgyptAir Flight 804 in the minutes before it crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, according to flight data CNN obtained Friday from an Egyptian source.

The data was filed through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), a data link for sending messages between planes and ground facilities. A screen grab of data has time stamps that match the approximate time the aircraft went missing early Thursday.

Authorities have not said what may have caused the plane carrying 66 people to crash while flying from Paris to Cairo.

Egyptian officials say they suspect terrorism, but no group has come forward to claim credit.

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, CNN aviation analyst David Soucie said.

“If there’s fire on board the aircraft, in this area which the ACARS indicates, then something was close to the cockpit,” 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.”

ACARS does not provide a cause of the crash, but Soucie said it was significant that the data was sent over a period of one to two minutes.

“Now if it it was a bomb, the characteristic bomb … (it) would have ruptured the skin of the aircraft,” he said. “This is not the indication you would have had, because a bomb that would do that would be instantaneous, and these reports would not have gone over two minutes like they do.”

He also noted that a fire in that section of the plane could have affected communications equipment.

Debris found in water

EgyptAir and Greek officials said Friday that searchers have found debris from the plane in the water.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos relayed the Egyptian discovery of the body part, seats and suitcases, citing Egyptian officials. Later, the airline issued a statement saying more remains, personal belongings and aircraft seats had been discovered.

Those announcements followed one from the Egyptian military, which said it had found parts of the aircraft and passenger belongings about 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt.

“The searching, sweeping and the retrieval process is underway,” Egyptian military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammad Samir said.

Kammenos also said it appears that aircraft crews participating in the search “have located further findings in a different location.”

“But we do not have as yet an official announcement if these findings do have to do with the particular aircraft,” he said.

The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew members and security when it left Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris late Wednesday.

It disappeared from radar early Thursday as it flew to Cairo — what should have been about a 3½-hour flight.

Confusion over debris

On Thursday, the airline’s vice chairman said wreckage of the plane had been found at sea, but those initial reports turned out to be false.

When searchers got close to the debris, they realized it was not from the missing airliner, EgyptAir’s Ahmed Adel said.

Hours after Adel retracted his statement, the military announced the sighting of the wreckage Friday.

“The presidency, with utmost sadness and regret, mourns the victims on aboard the EgyptAir flight who were killed after the plane crashed in the Mediterranean,” the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.

The airline expressed its condolences.

“The most important thing at this point in time is that we should make no speculation about what has taken place,” said Yehia Rashed, Egyptian tourism minister. “The situation should be based on facts.”

He stressed the importance of finding the so-called “black boxes” — the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder — to determine precisely what happened.

What went wrong?

While no theory has been completely ruled out, speculation on what caused the flight to crash centered on the possibility of a terror attack.

At some point before dropping off radar, the plane swerved 90 degrees to the left and then made a 360-degree turn to the right before plunging first to 15,000 feet, then 10,000 feet, and disappearing from radar, Greek officials said.

That sudden change in what had been an uneventful flight is why Egyptian officials are focusing on terror as the likely cause, a senior Egyptian official told CNN on Friday.

“The nature of the way the plane went down — the way it veered and then fell out of the sky leads us to believe this,” the official said.

What Greek officials described as swerving was likely pieces of the aircraft being picked up on radar as they fell from the sky, U.S. officials told CNN on Thursday.

As of now, investigators have found nothing implicating the flight crew or security officials aboard the plane, the Egyptian official said.

Miles O’Brien, a CNN aviation analyst, said that “it’s very difficult to come up with a scenario that jibes with some sort of catastrophic failure. (The evidence so far) leads us down the road to a deliberate act.”

French officials urged caution, saying it’s still too early to draw conclusions.

“All assumptions are reviewed, but none is favored,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France 2 network Friday. “We have absolutely no indication on the causes of this event.”

Ayrault said his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, was not leaning toward terrorism as the cause of the crash.

“He said he wanted all possibilities to be examined,” he told France 2.

Ayrault defended security measures at the Paris airport, saying they have been intensified since the November terror attacks.

Passengers and crew

Most of the passengers were Egyptian — 30 in all. But also aboard were 15 French citizens, including an infant. There were also passengers from Iraq, Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Canada and Algeria, according to the Egyptian aviation minister.

Canada said two of its citizens were on the plane.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the British passenger had Australian citizenship as well. It is unclear whether any other passengers were dual citizens.

The search

Greece, France, the United States and other nations were searching about 130 nautical miles southeast of the Greek island of Karpathos, Greek aviation officials said.

The United States has three P-3 Orion aircraft involved in the search, the U.S. Naval Forces Europe said on its website, with more expected to relieve them throughout Friday and into Saturday.

Greece has offered the nations involved in the search the use of military bases on the island of Crete, Greek Defense Ministry spokeswoman Jorgo Poulos said.

The European Space Agency said Friday that its Sentinel-1A satellite had spotted a 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) oil slick near where the plane is believed to have crashed. The agency said it’s possible the slick could be from another source.

As crews searched, somber relatives gathered in Cairo and Paris airports, seeking word on their loved ones.

The investigation

The Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry has formed an investigative committee to look into the crash.

It will be led by Ayman al-Moqadem, the investigator who is also heading up the inquiry into the October crash of a Russian Metrojet airliner over the Sinai, the agency said in a statement. That disaster, which killed all 224 aboard, is widely believed to be the work of terrorists.

Earlier Friday, three French technical safety investigators and a technical expert from airplane manufacturer Airbus arrived in Cairo to help with the investigation, according to the French Embassy in Egypt.

The investigation will include looking at the aircraft’s flight crew as well as the ground crew members and anyone who had access to the plane in Paris, U.S. officials told CNN.

French investigators will focus on that aspect first, the U.S. officials predicted. It will be up to Egyptian officials to scrutinize the crew, security and passengers on the flight, the officials said.

Investigators looking at the wreckage will want first to locate the nose, tail and wings of the aircraft, Deborah Hersman, a former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CNN.

“They are going to be looking to check those control surfaces to make sure that they are intact, and certainly if there is any sign of an explosion or foul play, they are going to look for markers of that,” Hersman said.

“The flight data recorder is going to have potentially hundreds or a thousand parameters, everything from speed and direction to kind of control surface positions,” she said. “The cockpit voice recorder can be tremendously helpful because they can hear the communication not just between air traffic control and the pilots, (but also) between the pilots and each other, between the pilots and cabin crew.”

Other developments

— The plane’s captain had about 6,000 flying hours, EgyptAir’s Adel said. Maintenance checks on the plane had reported “no snags.”

— Checks of the passenger manifest have so far resulted in no hits on terror watch lists, officials with knowledge of the investigation said.

— An initial theory is that the plane was downed by a bomb, two U.S. officials told CNN. Officials said the theory could change, with one senior administration official cautioning it is not yet supported by a “smoking gun.”

— The jet had routine maintenance checks in Cairo before it left for Paris, the airline said. Earlier Wednesday, the jet was also in Eritrea and Tunisia, data from flight tracking websites show.

— The plane has been part of EgyptAir’s fleet since November 2003, according to Adel.