Early on Thursday, this Egyptair Airbus A320-232, registration number SU-GCC, was en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard when it vanished from radar. The plane was last "seen" by Greek radar. The Greek defence minister said the plane turned 90 degrees, then 360 degrees, before plummeting into the Mediterranean sea.
Yesterday, an Egyptian aviation official contradicted the Greek report. Ehab Azmy, who is head of Egypt's state-run provider of air navigation services, told AP that the plane had been flying at its normal height of 37,000 feet before dropping off the radar. It was not observed, he said, to swerve and change direction before it disappeared. The reason for the discrepancy between the Greek and the Egyptian aviation official's accounts of the crash is not clear, and neither Egyptair nor the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation have commented on the final movements of the aircraft.
Greek aviation officials had said air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot when he entered Greek airspace and everything appeared normal. They tried to contact him again at 02:27 Cairo time, as the plane was set to enter Egyptian airspace, but "despite repeated calls, the aircraft did not respond." Last week, the Aviation Herald reported that smoke detectors went off in the plane's toilet and electrical systems three minutes before it disappeared.
As reported here yesterday, a number of messages were transmitted by the plane's ACARS system, which sends short transmissions from the aircraft to receivers on the ground, before it disappeared. Ed. has sourced the actual texts. Time stamps are in "Zulu time", that is GMT, two hours behind Cairo time.
00:26Z 3044 ANTI ICE R WINDOW
00:26Z 561200 R SLIDING WINDOW SENSOR
00:26Z 2600 SMOKE LAVATORY SMOKE
00:27Z 2600 AVIONICS SMOKE
00:28Z 561100 R FIXED WINDOW SENSOR
00:29Z 2200 AUTO FLT FCU 2 FAULT
00:29Z 2700 F/CTL SEC 3 FAULT
I wrote yesterday of the increasing speculation that the ACARS signals indicated that a bomb or incendiary device had exploded, affecting the right side of the aircraft. This morning we have an initial assessment from an Egyptian forensics official that human remains retrieved from the crash site suggest that there was an explosion on board the plane, although no traces of explosives have been detected.
The official based his assessment on the small size of body parts so far recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, where MS804 crashed. 23 bags of body parts have been collected since Sunday. "The size of the remains points towards an explosion," the official said. "The biggest part was the size of a palm."
However, another senior forensics official said only a tiny number of remains had arrived so far, and it was too early to specify whether there had been an explosion aboard. Investigators rely on debris, bags and clothes as well as chemical analysis to detect the imprints of an explosion, according to people involved in two previous probes where deliberate blasts were involved.
Supposing the cause of the crash really was an explosion. Who do you think might be responsible? Click here to read "MS804: 'We will bring this plane down'", WWW 23/5/16.