Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Time is running out

Pressure is mounting to recover the black boxes aboard the ill-fated EgyptAir Flight 804, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

The search for the EgyptAir plane which crashed in the Mediterranean on 19 May, killing all 66 passengers and crew, has been narrowed down to a five-kilometre area based on signals emitted by the plane’s black boxes.

France dispatched a naval survey vessel on 26 May to join the search for the jet’s black boxes. Laplace, based at Porto Vecchio in Corsica, arrived at the search zone, north of the port of Alexandria, on 30 May. The vessel is equipped with three specialised probes, provided by a French company contracted to assist the search.

Search teams are expected to need at least 12 days to find the black boxes. Experts say there are less than 20 days before the batteries die out. Once the batteries have expired, the black boxes will no longer emit signals, making their recovery next to impossible. Without the black boxes, the final moments of the ill-fated plane, and the cause of its loss, may never be known.

The French vessel is equipped with three detectors designed to locate signals transmitted from the plane’s flight recorders, which are believed to lie about 3,000 metres underwater. The torpedo-shaped detectors can be lowered about one kilometre underwater and can detect signals up to four kilometres away.

Because two weeks have already passed since the crash, investigators are becoming increasingly anxious to find the boxes, which will be silenced forever by mid-June.

Due to the difficulties in finding the black boxes, on 26 May Egypt signed memoranda of understanding with two foreign companies to assist in the search and retrieval process. One of the companies is Deep Ocean Research (DOS), an international company that provides assistance in ultra-deep water activities and uses advanced technology.

In 2004, DOS deployed a system of “intelligent buoys” to search for the black boxes of a Boeing 737 belonging to Egypt’s Flash Air after it crashed in the Red Sea near Sharm El-Sheikh.

The second firm likely to be involved is the Mauritius-based Deep Ocean Search, with which France and Egypt are now finalising a contract, according to French diplomatic sources.

Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathi said there is still no hard evidence as to why Flight 804 crashed. “Small pieces of wreckage and human remains from the jet have been recovered while the bulk of the jet and bodies are believed to be too deep under the sea. A forensic team has received human remains and is carrying DNA tests to identify the victims,” Fathi said.

Ayman Al-Moqqadem, the crash’s chief investigator, said that among the most important parts of the black box is the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from which investigators can hear internal crew communications. “This device also records communication with control towers, en-route controllers and the aircraft operator,” Al-Moqqadem said.

According to Al-Moqqadem, investigators have a few scraps of data in the form of messages sent by the jet in the last minutes of its flight, logging smoke alarms in the forward lavatory and an electronics bay just below. Smoke was present both in the lavatory as well as in the aircraft’s avionics area under the cockpit.

The EgyptAir jet did not appear to have technical problems before taking off from Paris. “During its flight, it sent signals that showed the engines were functioning normally but then detected smoke and suggested an increase in temperature at the co-pilot’s window,” said Al-Moqqadem. The jet, according to Al-Moqqadem, continued to transmit messages for the next three minutes before vanishing.

An investigating committee presented the coordinates of the sent messages to recovery teams to assist in locating the area where the black boxes may be.

The committee received a satellite report showing that an electronic message was sent from the plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which sends an automated message in case of a crash or if the plane is submerged in water.

“The committee presented the coordinates of the message to teams so that they can search the area from where the message was sent,” Al-Moqqadem said.

Investigators are also looking for debris and body parts for clues. Al-Moqqadem stressed that it is too early to rule out any possible cause.

“No bodies have been recovered so far, with search teams able only to locate small body parts. DNA tests are underway to identify the remains,” said Al-Moqqadem. He added that a report is expected to be issued by the investigating team within one month from the date of the crash.


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