Egypt sends submarine to hunt for crashed plane

Waters in the area of Mediterranean under search could be 3,000 metres deep

Egyptian rescuers find debris of the EgyptAir jet that crashed into the Mediterranean en route from Paris to Cairo. Video: Reuters

 

Egypt deployed a submarine on Sunday to hunt for the EgyptAir plane that crashed in deep Mediterranean waters, president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said, warning investigations into the disaster would take time.

In his first public remarks on Thursday’s crash of the Airbus 320 jet, which killed all 66 people on board, Mr Sisi also said all possible scenarios were still being considered and cautioned against rushing to conclusions.

“Search equipment has moved today from the oil ministry, they have a submarine that can reach 3,000 metres under water,” he told assembled ministers and members of parliament at the opening of a fertiliser plant in the port city of Damietta.

“It moved today in the direction of the plane crash site because we are working hard to salvage the black boxes.”

Egypt has said its navy has so far found human remains, wreckage and the personal belongings of passengers floating in the Mediterranean about 290 km north of Alexandria, but is still searching for the plane’s two black box recorders that could provide valuable evidence on the cause of the crash.

Waters in the area of the Mediterranean under search could be 3,000 metres deep, which would place the black box locator beacons on the edge of their detectable range from the surface.

Shortly before it disappeared off radar screens, the plane sent a series of warnings indicating that smoke had been detected on board, French investigators said on Saturday.

The signals did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire but they offered the first clues as to what unfolded in the moments before the crash.

“Until now all scenarios are possible. So please, it is very important that we do not talk and say there is a specific scenario,” Mr Sisi said.

“This could take a long time but no one can hide these things. As soon as the results are out people will be informed.”

The first audio available from the doomed flight indicates that all was routine as the plane checked in with air traffic controllers in Zurich, Switzerland - and joked with their Greek counterparts - not long before the aircraft crashed.

The recording was released as leaked flight data showing trouble in the cockpit and smoke in one of the toilets brought into focus the chaotic final moments of the Airbus 320, which was on its way to Cairo from Paris.

The pilot contacted Zurich late on Wednesday night, before being handed over to Italian air traffic controllers in Padua.

The Zurich controller says: “EgyptAir 804, contact Padova 1-2-0, decimal 7-2-5, good night.”

The pilot responds: “This is 0-7-2-5 Padova control. (Unintelligible) 8-0-4. Thank you so much. Good day, er, good night.”

The audio recording was taken from www.liveatc.net, a website that provides live air traffic control broadcasts from around the world.

The communication occurred around midnight local time, about two and a half hours before Greek air traffic controllers in Athens lost contact with the plane.

The leaked flight data from Flight 804 includes a three-minute period before contact was lost as alarms on the Airbus screeched, one after another.

As French authorities question staff who had access to the EgyptAir plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport, cleaning crews are among those drawing attention.

One theory is that a bomb could have been placed in the plane while it was on the tarmac in Paris, or at its previous stops in Cairo or Tunis.

Meanwhile the Egyptian military released the first images of aircraft debris plucked from the sea, including personal items and damaged seats.

“If they lost the aircraft within three minutes that’s very, very quick,” said aviation security expert Philip Baum. “They were dealing with an extremely serious incident.”

Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet into the sea, never issuing a distress call.

The Facebook page of Brigadier General Mohammed Samir, the chief spokesman for Egypt’s military, showed the first photographs of debris from the plane, shredded remains of plane seats, life jackets - one seemingly undamaged - and a scrap of cloth that might be part of a baby’s purple-and-pink blanket.

Brig Gen Samir, later posted a video showing what appeared to be a piece of blue carpet, seat belts, a shoe and a white handbag. The clip opened with aerial footage of an unidentified navy ship followed by a speedboat heading towards floating debris.

Greek officials say the Airbus entered the Athens sector of Greek airspace at 2.24am local time. Twenty-four minutes later controllers chatted with the pilot, who appeared to be in good spirits, quipping in Greek: “Thank you.”

At 3.12am, the plane passed over the Greek island of Kasos before heading into the eastern Mediterranean, according to flight data maintained by FlightRadar24.

Less than 15 minutes later, about midway between Greece and Egypt, a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane’s cockpit windows, according to leaked flight data published by The Aviation Herald.

At 3.27am Greek time, air traffic controllers in Athens attempted to contact the plane to hand over monitoring of the flight from Greek to Egyptian authorities.

There was no response from the plane despite repeated calls, including on the emergency frequency. At the same time, a sensor detected that smoke had reached the aircraft’s avionics, the network of computers and wires that control the plane, according to the leaked flight data.

Two minutes later, the aircraft reached Egyptian airspace. Alarms went off warning about the plane’s autopilot and wing control systems, suggesting serious structural problems. Within seconds, the plane fell off the radar (about 2.30am Egyptian time, which is behind Greek summer time). Air traffic controllers in Cairo sought assistance from the Egyptian air force to track the missing plane to no avail.

David Learmount, a widely-respected aviation expert and editor of the authoritative Flightglobal magazine, said Aviation Herald’s reported readings from the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, suggested a quick-spreading fire.

He said on his website: “The question now is whether the fire that caused the smoke was the result of an electrical fault - for example a short-circuit caused by damaged wiring - or whether some form of explosive or incendiary device was used.”

Mr Baum was sceptical that a fire alone was the reason the plane went down.

“Fires happen aboard aircraft, but they don’t usually result in the destruction of the aircraft in three minutes,” he said.

Some have wondered at the lack of a mayday signal, but Mr Baum said that could make sense if the crew was unconscious or struggling to regain control of the aircraft.

Agencies