Downed planes: MS804

EgyptAir plane broke up midair after fire, report

Evidence gleaned from EgyptAir Flight 804's flight data recorder (above) and other sources rules out a pilot flying the plane into the water.
Evidence gleaned from EgyptAir Flight 804's flight data recorder (above) and other sources rules out a pilot flying the plane into the water.PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO • Evidence gathered in an investigation into the crash of Egypt- Air Flight 804 in the Mediterranean Sea in May indicates that the plane most likely broke up in midair after a fire near or inside the cockpit quickly overwhelmed the crew, according to Egyptian officials involved in the inquiry.

But the officials could not determine whether the fire, thought to have caused the crash, had been set off by a mechanical malfunction or a malicious act.

The findings are based on information from the Airbus A320's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, commonly known as black boxes, along with an analysis of the condition and distribution of recovered debris, including human remains, according to forensic and aviation officials in Cairo.

The officials spoke this week on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the investigation publicly. They said the evidence appeared to be sufficient to rule out at least one early theory: that a pilot had deliberately flown the plane into the water.

Flight 804 plummeted from 37,000 feet during an overnight flight to Cairo from Paris, France, on May 19, killing all 66 people on board. The early findings that it disintegrated in the air, rather than upon hitting the water, may be presented in a preliminary report on the crash in the coming days.

An Egyptian aviation official said the voice recorder from the cockpit indicated that the mood there was relaxed in the minutes before the plane veered off course. Crew members were playing music and chatting when the pilot, Captain Muhammad Shoukair, 36, suddenly said there was a fire on board and asked co-pilot Muhammad Mamdouh Assem, 24, to get an extinguisher.

That was the last human sound the recorder captured. Information from the flight data recorder, as well as a series of automated alerts that were sent by the plane to a maintenance base on the ground, suggests that in the minutes before radar contact was lost, heavy smoke was detected in a lavatory as well as near the cockpit.

The source of the fire remains unclear.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'EgyptAir plane broke up midair after fire, report'. Print Edition | Subscribe