Traces from EgyptAir victims point to blast on plane

Traces from EgyptAir victims point to blast on plane
Egypt's civil aviation ministry confirmed on Thursday that traces of explosives were found on the remains of victims of an EgyptAir flight that crashed into the Mediterranean in May.
3 min read
16 December, 2016
EgyptAir MS804 was en route to Cairo when it crashed into the Mediterranean [AFP]

Traces of explosives have been found on victims' remains from an EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean in May killing all 66 people on board, Egypt's aviation ministry said on Thursday.

An official investigative committee that made the discovery based on reports by the forensice medicine authority has referred the case to Egypt's state prosecution, it added in a statement.

Under Egyptian law, the prosecution takes over "if it becomes clear to the investigative committee that there is criminal suspicion behind the accident", the ministry said.

EgyptAir MS804 was en route from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean.

Previous data retrieved from one of the flight's black boxes in June showed that a fire broke out in or near the cockpit of the Airbus A320 before it crashed between Crete and the coast of northern Egypt.

Smoke alarms were heard onboard and soot was found on the wreckage, an Egyptian-led investigative committee said at the time.

"Recorded data is showing a consistency with ACARS messages of lavatory smoke and avionics smoke," it said.

France's air safety agency BEA reacted with caution to Thursday's announcement in Egypt.

"In the absence of detailed information on the conditions in which samples were taken and measures which led to the detection of traces of explosives, BEA does not consider it possible at this stage to draw conclusions on the origin of the accident," a spokesperson said.

France's foreign ministry said "the investigation will continue to determine the exact causes", while the plane's manufacturer Airbus said it had not been informed of the Egyptian findings and declined to comment.

French investigators have favoured the theory of a technical fault.

Blaming Paris

A lobbyist for French victims of attacks and accidents poured scorn on the Egyptian findings.

"We are being manipulated," said Stephane Gicquel. "No substantiated element points to terrorism. This is blackmail on the part of Egyptian authorities... to protect the company EgyptAir by placing responsibility on Paris."

Thursday's announcement comes while Cairo is still investigating the October 2015 crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula of eastern Egypt.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for bombing the Airbus A321 Russian plane that crashed after takeoff from a Sinai resort headed for St Petersburg, killing all 224 passengers and crew onboard.

There has been no such claim linked to the EgyptAir crash.

Among the 66 people on board the EgyptAir plane were 40 Egyptians, including the 10-member crew, and 15 French nationals.

Egypt's aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, had said a terrorist attack was the most likely cause of the EgyptAir crash.

The chances of an attack were "higher than the possibility of a technical (failure)" for the downing of the plane, Fathy said in May following the crash.

Aviation experts have said there is little chance that a mechanical fault was responsible.

The plane only entered service in 2003, making it relatively new for an aircraft that tends to operate for 30 to 40 years. 

If a bombing is established, investigators will have to determine if a device could have been smuggled aboard a flight taking off from France's busiest airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Agencies contributed to this report.