Saturday, May 21, 2016

MS804: Where there's smoke, there's fire

We're starting to get a look at some of the debris that has been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, about 250 miles north of Alexandria, Egypt. (We're not talking about the lifejackets recovered just after the disappearance of Egyptair MS804 near the Greek island of Crete.) Pictures circulating on the internet show some rags of clothing and a life vest, which do not appear to be scorched or burned. The absence of burn marks suggests that the Airbus 320 broke up either before or when it hit the water. But there's little more to go on, as only a few pieces of debris have so far been recovered.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials are investigating reports that smoke detectors went off shortly before the plane crashed. And French say there were indications of a fire on board. Sebastien Barthe, a spokesthingy for the French air accident investigation service, says messages sent by the plane's automatic detection system suggest smoke was detected in multiple places on board the aircraft before it went down. Messages of that type usually indicate the start of a fire, he said, but anything beyond that is "pure conjecture" at this point.

The respected industry website The Aviation Herald has published automatic alerts transmitted by the A-320. In short succession, they indicate the opening of a cockpit window, smoke in a lavatory and smoke underneath the flight deck in the electronics bay. Further messages also suggest problems with the flight controls computer.

"Over a period of three minutes, the aircraft system shut down," said the editor of Aviation Security International."That's starting to indicate that it probably wasn't a hijacking. There probably wasn't a struggle in the cockpit. It's more likely a fire on board," he said. "Now, whether that was a technical fire, a short circuit, or whether it was because a bomb went off on board, we don't know."

So it's still much too soon to say what happened. It could be something as simple as some simpleton having a smoke in the lavatory and causing a fire. Or it could be a terrorist -- not likely a Christian or a Jew -- setting fire to his shoes or underpants. Stay tuned.

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