Smoke was detected inside the cabin of the EgyptAir passenger plane before it crashed in the Mediterranean on Thursday, investigators have confirmed.
Smoke detectors went off in the toilet and the aircraft’s electrics, minutes before the signal was lost, according to the Aviation Herald.
In addition, France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said Saturday, confirming media reports, that EgyptAir jet sent a series of error messages indicating that smoke had been detected on board before crashing into the Mediterranean on Thursday.
“These messages do not allow in any way to say what may have caused smoke or fire on board the aircraft,” a spokesman for the agency said.
He added that the priority now was to find the two flight recorders, containing cockpit voice recordings and data readings, from the Airbus A320 which vanished from radar with 66 people on board.
A spokesman for French investigators said it was too early to say what caused the accident.
The Aviation Herald said it had received flight data filed through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) from three independent channels.
It said the system showed that at 02:26 local time on Thursday (00:26 GMT) smoke was detected in the Airbus A320 toilet.
A minute later – at 00:27 GMT – there was an avionics smoke alert.
The last ACARS message was at 00:29 GMT, the air industry website said, and the contact with the plane was lost four minutes later at 02;33 local time.
ACARS is used to routinely download flight data to the airline operating the aircraft.
“There was smoke reported in the aircraft lavatory, then smoke in the avionics bay, and over a period of three minutes the aircraft’s systems shut down, so you know, that’s starting to indicate that it probably wasn’t a hijack, it probably wasn’t a struggle in the cockpit, it’s more likely a fire on board.”
This data could be the biggest clue yet as to what happened. It suggests there was a fire at the front of the aircraft, on the right-hand side.
The sequence begins with a warning of an overheating window in the cockpit. Smoke is then detected in the lavatory (we assume it’s the one behind the cockpit) and in a bay right underneath the cockpit, which is full of electronic equipment.
Finally, another window becomes too hot, before all the systems begin collapsing. All of this takes place over a few minutes, then the aircraft drops off the radar.
Some pilots have suggested that the 90 degree left turn the plane then made is a known manoeuvre to get out of the way in an emergency, when an aircraft needs to drop height suddenly.
The 360 degree turn after that, they say, could be the crew managing a crisis.
So it seems that the aircraft caught fire and that the fire spread very quickly. But whether that fire was deliberate or mechanical, we still can’t say.