Egypt sends submarine to site of plane crash

Relatives and friends of the EgyptAir crash victims attending a mourning ceremony yesterday at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo's Abbasiya district.
Relatives and friends of the EgyptAir crash victims attending a mourning ceremony yesterday at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo's Abbasiya district.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Search for black boxes in 3,000m-deep waters; probe will take time, warns President

CAIRO • Egypt has deployed a submarine to hunt for the EgyptAir plane that crashed in deep Mediterranean waters, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said yesterday, warning that investigations into the disaster would take time.

In his first public remarks on last Thursday's Airbus A-320 crash, which killed all 66 people on board, Mr Sisi also said that all possible scenarios are still being considered and he cautioned against rushing to conclusions.

"Search equipment has moved today from the oil ministry. It has a submarine that can reach 3,000m under water," he told officials gathered 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," he added.

Egypt has said its navy has so far found human remains, personal belongings of passengers and wreckage floating in the sea about 290km 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 3,000m deep, which would place the black box locator beacons on the edge of their detectable range from the surface.

Shortly before the plane disappeared off radar screens, it sent a series of electronic signals indicating that smoke had been detected on board, French accident investigator BEA said last Saturday. The signals did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire but offered the first clues as to what had 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 initial investigation report will be released in a month, Egyptian state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported, citing investigation head Ayman el-Mokadem.

The electronic signals offer a puzzling clue to what may have happened to Flight MS804.

The aircraft had smoke in the front part of the cabin, BEA said. Two error messages suggested a fire on board, while later alerts indicated some type of electrical equipment failure.

While similar signals have preceded air accidents in the past, they are not associated with a sudden disappearance from radar, as occurred with the EgyptAir jet.

A Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukrainian airspace in 2014 broke apart so quickly that on-board systems did not have time to send distress messages.

"It is too long for an explosion and too short for a traditional fire," said former A-320 pilot John Cox, president of the Washington- based consultancy Safety Operating Systems. "It says we have more questions than we have answers."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Egypt sends submarine to site of plane crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe