What holds the keys to unlock EgyptAir MS804 flight mystery

EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on 19 May 2016. There were 66 people on board.

Questions:

1. It is probably even a bigger challenge to investigate the plane crash when the aircraft crashed at sea so in general on what the investigators will now focus on?

2. From what we know at this stage do you see anything what may point to possible cause of this tragedy?

Answers:

William Waldock, Professor of Behavioral & Safety Science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

1. A crash into the ocean is always more complicated.  A crash on land leaves an impact scene that can be analyzed and understood by the investigators.  While the scene may look like chaos to most people, there is a logic and order behind how wreckage is distributed throughout such a scene.  Crashing into the ocean, particularly into deep water (8-10,000feet in this case) leaves no such evidence.  Finding the flight recorders may be much more difficult as well.  With Air France 447 from 2009, it took 2 years and millions of Euros to find them, and they were the only evidence that explained what had really happened and why (pilots focused on the failures of the automation instead of flying the aircraft).  In this case, I have seen reports that one or both of the recorders have been located.  From a forensic pathology standpoint, the bodies of the victims can reveal evidence as well.  Shrapnel injuries can indicated a bomb.  Toxicology can show what type of environment the victims were breathing in:  Carbon monoxide saturation, cyanide and other combustion gases and products can indicate fire exposure.  If I were to choose the single most important set of evidence, it would be the flight recorders.

2.  The factual evidence so far indicates that the aircraft was flying normally at 37,000 feet for an extended period of time, almost certainly on autopilot.  It then appeared to lose control, suddenly and violently and descend very fast toward the surface of the water.  The reports of “smoke” from the aircraft ACARS system (automated condition reporting system) seem to indicate some sort of fire event as part of the crash, but that could be produced by a bomb, incendiary device, or some sort of catastrophic accidental fire.  The lack of radio calls from the pilots could indicate they were busy trying to recover the aircraft (aviate, navigate, communicate, in that order)or that they were incapacitated in some way.  Most of the focus so far is on a bomb or some other intentional act to bring the plane down.  That is definitely a suspect area, and may be a probability, but it is not the only possibility.  That’s why we take the time to do investigations properly and follow the evidence to what really happened and why.

Shawn Pruchnicki, Lecturer, Center for Aviation Studies, Ohio State University

1. That is true as finding the wreckage is much more difficult and it is too expensive to bring every single piece, even if found, to the surface. So, the focus will be to find the two recorder boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. Since the aircraft’s last minute behavior suggests a rapidly occurring event like an explosion or loss of control, bombs are always on the list. As such they will start to swab the material that is floating on the surface of the sea to look for residue that might indicate a bomb type device. As for the victim’s remains, they can also tell a story of an in-flight explosion by the damage that they have sustained. There are certain types of injuries and injury patterns seen on the victims after an in-flight bomb event.

2. Typically,  in an event such as this where the aircraft was fine one sec and not the next are almost always either a loss of control, structural failure causing rapid decompression, and explosive devices. That is where the focus will be in the near term. Also, even though there was no indication on the ATC freq. of a problem, there are other forms of communication that can also be checked such as the radio used to talk to their company and various mechanical systems that check in with maintenance bases every so often. They will be checked while we are waiting to find the boxes.

Michael Barr, Senior Instructor, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California

It is much more to difficult to investigate accidents occuring in deep water.

1. More difficult to find the wreckage and black boxes.

2. The pieces can move large distances because of currents.

3. More difficult to retrieve the wreckage.

4. Time taken to get the parts to shore and the labs.
It is still too soon to comment on a cause. The wreckage and black boxes need to be recovered.

 

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