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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Smoke detected on board prior to EgyptAir flight 804 disappearing from radar screens; military recovers human remains, wreckage.

EgyptAir flight MS804 sent a series of messages indicating that smoke had been detected on board before crashing into the Mediterranean on Thursday, France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analysis agency said on Saturday, according to Reuters. A spokesman from the bureau told AFP it was “far too soon to interpret and understand the cause of the accident,” but Bloomberg quotes president of the Washington-based consultancy Safety Operating Systems John Cox said the signals are “too long for an explosion and too short for a traditional fire … It says we have more questions than we have answers.”

While the Ismail government has said that it is more likely the jet was brought down by terror than by mechanical failure, no group has yet claimed responsibility for a terror attack, whereas Daesh promptly claimed responsibility for the downing of the Metrojet flight over Sinai last fall.

On Friday, the Egyptian Navy found human remains, luggage, aircraft seats and other parts of the wreckage, Reuters reported. The Armed Forces released photos of the debris on Saturday on their official Facebook page. Three French officials, three British investigators, and a technical expert from Airbus arrived in Cairo on Friday to aid in the Egypt-led investigation, airport officials told the Associated Press. French aviation investigators have begun to check and question all ground staff at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport, a French judicial official told AP on Friday. The wire also noted that the aircraft had travelled through Eritrea and Tunisia prior to the crash.

As searchers scramble to both find the rest of the wreckage and investigators look for the cause of the crash, EgyptAir’s vice president told CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour that "the plane was ‘fine and healthy’ at take off.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Friday there was "absolutely no indication" of the cause despite Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy saying during a press conference on Thursday that the “possibility of a terrorist act is higher than that of a technical error,” according to Ahram Online. Head of Russia’s FSB security service Alexander Bortnikov also said on Thursday terrorism was the more likely cause, according to Reuters, as did US presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, wrote CNN.

Pundits don’t know what to think: Data broadcast suggesting fires on board in the minutes before the crash “seem at odds with the idea that the aircraft suffered the kind of sudden, catastrophic break-up normally associated with a bombing. However, it remains possible that they reflect a hostile act that started an onboard fire without immediately breaching the aircraft’s fuselage,” the Financial Times notes. While messages such as these “generally mean the start of a fire … everything else is pure conjecture,” the Associated Press notes.

The search for the flight data and cockpit voice recorders will be challenging, experts warn. The recorders, key to the reconstruction of the disaster, could be among “parts of the Airbus A320 have likely sunk to the seabed and could be hidden by ridges and underwater volcanoes as high as the Alps,” says one. The area in which the jetliner went down is marked by deep water, rough seas and a complex geography on the ocean floor.

Meanwhile, the tourism sector is holding its collective breath at the outcome of the investigation, with the Tourism Development Authority stating that it is too soon to gauge what effect this will have on the sector, according to its deputy head Ahmed Hamdy. Hamdy implied that the TDA’s promotional campaign in France and other European countries, which launched in February, will not be paused.

The mainstream business press is already noting the tragedy bodes ill for the tourism industry. The Financial Times (paywall) quotes travel expert Hany Madkour as saying, “There will be no impact because there is no tourism to start with.” The WSJ (paywall) is even more pessimistic, quoting Hany Farahat, a senior economist at CI Capital. as saying that for the economy, “four incidents in a row within several months is too much to swallow.” Farahat tells Bloomberg the crash could “affect unemployment, consumption and other sectors linked” to the tourism industry. Meanwhile, the Financial Times (paywall) is one of the few outlets not placing the onus squarely on Egypt, calling into question Europe’s airport security since the flight originated from France, where Charles de Gaulle airport has already had problems with radicalism. CNN, BBC, and the Telegraph ask if Egypt’s tourism will ever recover at this rate, while New York Time’s Declan Walsh wrote on Thursday that the crash “blindsided” a nation that thought it might be on the path to recovery. The EGX closed Thursday in the red on the news, and the USD gained 5 piasters against the EGP.

Ahram Online has profiles of a number of those of who lost their lives in the disaster.

Also worth a read this morning in the stream of stories on the incident: Kareem Fahim leads a three-person byline explaining what’s known so far about the data the flight broadcast prior to its crash. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Dahlia Kholaif note the tragedy has brought together a “deeply divided” nation, and Declan Walsh covers the 2013-era “CC” graffiti found on the doomed airliner at the time.

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