Lhe screeching over the causes of air accidents is an Egyptian specialty. After the Sharm el-Sheikh crash in 2004, the families of the victims experienced a similar scenario with the disappearance of an Egyptair A320 in the Mediterranean. During this flight MS 804 Roissy-CDG-Cairo, May 19, 2016, we deplore the death of 66 people, including 15 French. Both investigations – judicial and technical – are more or less blocked by the Egyptian authorities.
As required by the rules of international civil aviation, Egypt is leading the technical investigation which aims to improve safety and prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Major tools of this expertise, the two flight recorders were recovered at sea in poor condition, but could nevertheless be read by the BEA (Bureau of investigations and analyzes for the safety of civil aviation) of Le Bourget, one of the few laboratories in the world capable of deciphering dormant black boxes.
But the office is supposed to let the Egyptian investigators control the communication on the content (FDR data, voices and CVR noises) of the recorders. This is why French justice must finally have the CVR voice recorder seized at Le Bourget to make it available to legal experts as part of the investigation into manslaughter. Their report was submitted last month to the Paris Court of Appeal and our Italian colleague Corriere della Sera became aware of it. Two major conclusions emerge.
The pilot was smoking
The fire at the origin of the crash was favored by the leak of an oxygen mask (hissing heard on the CVR). This co-pilot’s mask had been exchanged and incorrectly checked during the stopover at CDG. All of the expertise also points to numerous operational and safety malfunctions at Egyptair. The plane, with too many faults, should never have been declared “good for the flight” before this round trip to France. The presence of ashtrays, widely used to the point of having recently been replaced, pointed experts to a cigarette smoked in the cockpit that started the fire. Since then, the cockpits of Egyptair planes have been “no smoking”, as has long been the case in most of the world’s companies.
EgyptAir flight crash: why Egypt favors the attack
On the side of the Egyptian judicial inquiry, the official thesis is that there was an explosion, following a terrorist attack (not claimed). However, the effect of the bomb did not appear on the recorders and, at the autopsy, no body showed any trace of burns. The wreckage of the plane recovered also invalidates this assertion which has the advantage of transferring, in the event of an attack, the responsibility to the security checks at the departure of the flight at Roissy-CDG. This allows the justice to close the case with the secrecy-defence linked to terrorism. In addition, neither Egyptair nor Egyptian civil aviation can be worried.
Usual Egyptian reluctance
For French air accident experts, this reluctance of the Egyptian authorities to collaborate is nothing new. We remember the procrastination during the crash of the Boeing 737 of the Egyptian charter Flash Airlines shortly after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheick to Roissy-CDG on January 3, 2004. The death toll stands at 148, including 134 French passengers and 13 members of crew. The Egyptian final report does not identify a cause for the disaster. Highly criticized, it is deemed inadmissible by the international community.
The captain’s lack of training, untouchable as a former hero of the Six Day War, the 500 hours of flight only and the spatial disorientation of the co-pilot during a night turn are some of the causes of the crash which appear in an ocean of company and civil aviation failures. After this accident, the European Union established a blacklist of airlines to avoid in the world which is updated regularly.
But does the too public revelation of the causes of this Egyptair accident, which shows the carelessness of the national company and its responsibility as well as the laxity of the supervision, risk upsetting the good diplomatic understanding with Egypt, big client of the French arms industry?