Doomed EgyptAir flight had 'chaotic' last moments

Doomed EgyptAir flight had 'chaotic' last moments
Leaked flight data on the missing EgyptAir flight show the aircraft suffered trouble in the cockpit as alarms went off aboard the plane moments before it crashed on Thursday.
4 min read
22 May, 2016
It remains too early to determine what happened to EgyptAir flight 804 before crashing [Bloomberg]

The final moments of EgyptAir flight 804 saw trouble in the cockpit, smoke in a plane lavatory and alarms screeching, leaked flight data, which included a three-minute period of contact, showed.

While it remains too early to determine what happened to the aircraft, according to officials, mounting evidence points to a sudden dramatic catastrophe, leading to the plane's crash into the eastern Mediterranean early Thursday.

"All the hypotheses are being examined," France's foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Egyptian military released on Saturday the first images of aircraft debris retrieved from the sea, which included personal items and damaged plane seats.

The Facebook page of the chief spokesman for Egypt's military showed the first photographs of debris from the plane, shredded remains of plane seats, life jackets — one seemingly undamaged — and a scrap of cloth that might be part of a baby's purple-and-pink blanket.

Final communication with EgyptAir Flight 804

- The first available audio from the doomed flight indicates that all was routine as the pilot checked in with air traffic controllers in Zurich, Switzerland, around midnight, before being handed over to Italian air traffic controllers in Padua [Padova].
- Pilot: "This is 0-7-2-5 Padova control. [Unintelligible] 8-0-4. Thank you so much. Good day er good night"
- At 2:24 a.m. [Greek time] the flight entered the Athens sector of Greek airspace.
- At 2:48 a.m. controllers chatted with the pilot, who appeared to be in good spirits
- At 3:12 a.m. the plane passed over the Greek island of Kasos before heading into the eastern Mediterranean
- Less than 15 minutes later, about midway between Greece and Egypt, a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane's cockpit windows
- At 3:27 a.m. air traffic controllers in Athens attempted to contact the plane to hand over monitoring of the flight from Greek to Egyptian authorities
- There was no response from the plane despite repeated calls, including on the emergency frequency.
- At the same time, a sensor detected that smoke had reached the aircraft's avionics, the network of computers and wires that control the plane
- Two minutes later, the aircraft reached Egyptian airspace. Alarms went off warning about the plane's autopilot and wing control systems, suggesting serious structural problems.
- Within seconds, the plane fell off the radar [about 2:30 a.m. Egyptian time, which is behind Greek summer time]. 

The spokesman, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Samir, later posted a video showing what appeared to be a piece of blue carpet, seat belts, a shoe and a white handbag.

The clip opened with aerial footage of an unidentified navy ship followed by a speedboat heading toward floating debris.

Egypt is leading a multi-nation effort to search for the plane's black boxes, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, as well as other clues that could help explain the aircraft's sudden plunge into the sea. 

"If they lost the aircraft within three minutes that's very, very quick," said aviation security expert Philip Baum, "They were dealing with an extremely serious incident."

"Fires happen aboard aircraft, but they don't usually result in the destruction of the aircraft in three minutes," Baum said.

Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet [11,582 meters] into the sea - never issuing a distress call.

Egyptian authorities believe terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure while aviation experts say the erratic finale to the flight suggests a bomb blast or struggle in the cockpit.

Another EgyptAir flight faces technical problems in Saudi airport

Meanwhile, an EgyptAir flight faced technical failure during landing at the Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina city in Saudi Arabia on Saturday evening.

The plane, which was traveling from Borg el-Arab airport near Alexandria, faced malfunction in its undercarriage while attempting to land on the Medina Airport runway.

Problems in the aircraft's landing gear led the plane to suddenly stop on the runway, disrupting airfield traffic.

A state of emergency was immediately declared in the airport and all 139 passengers were evacuated off the aircraft and no injuries reported.

Agencies contributed to this report.