Forensic expert suggests explosion downed EgyptAir jet
Cairo — Body parts recovered from the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 showed signs of burns and were so small that they suggested the jet was brought down by an explosion, a member of the team examining the remains said Tuesday. But the idea of a blast was promptly dismissed by the head of Egypt’s forensic agency as “baseless” speculation.
The cause of Thursday’s crash of the EgyptAir jet flying from Paris to Cairo that killed all 66 people aboard still has not been determined. Ships and planes from Egypt, Greece, France, the United States and other nations are searching the Mediterranean Sea north of the Egyptian port of Alexandria for the jet’s voice and flight data recorders, as well as more bodies and parts of the aircraft.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister has said he believes terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure or some other catastrophic event. But no hard evidence has emerged on the cause, and no militant group has claimed to have downed the jet. Leaked flight data indicated a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane’s cockpit windows in the final moments of the flight.
An Egyptian forensic team was examining the remains of the victims for any traces of explosives, according to a team member and a second official, both speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The team member said the fact that all 80 body parts recovered so far were very small and that some showed signs of burns suggested an explosion.
“There isn’t even a whole body part, like an arm or a head,” said the forensic official, who examined the remains.
He said at least one part of an arm has signs of burns — an indication it might have “belonged to a passenger sitting next to the explosion.”
“The logical explanation is that an explosion brought it down,” he said, adding that if there was a blast, the cause was not known.
But Hisham Abdel-Hamid, head of the Egyptian government’s forensic agency, dismissed the suggestion, telling the state-run MENA news agency: “Whatever has been published is baseless and mere assumptions.”
France’s aviation accident investigation agency would not comment on anything involving the bodies or say whether any information has surfaced to indicate an explosion.
Other experts were divided on whether the state of the remains necessarily suggested an explosion.
Philip Butterworth-Hayes, an aviation systems expert, said such damage was unlikely if the plane was intact when it hit the water.
“Normally an impact is not going to do that to a human body in a seat belt,” he said, adding that in some aircraft hit the water, bodies are found relatively intact.
“Normally the human frame can withstand quite severe deceleration, which is what happens when a plane hits the water,” Butterworth-Hayes said.
But David Learmount, a consulting editor at the aviation news website Flightglobal, said a water impact could have such a devastating effect on those in the plane.
“Hitting water after a fall from that height is like hitting a cliff face,” he said.
There also have been contradictory reports over the last moments of Flight 804.
Greece’s defense minister said radar showed the aircraft turned 90 degrees left, then a full 360 degrees to the right, plummeting from 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) before disappearing at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
But the head of Egypt’s state-run provider of air navigation services denied that, saying the plane did not swerve or lose altitude and disappeared from radar while at its normal altitude of 37,000 feet.
A Greek military official insisted that all radar data available to Greek authorities showed the plane swerving and losing altitude. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Egypt’s investigative team said 18 batches of wreckage have been brought to Cairo’s criminal investigation units for examination.
It added that priority was to locate the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — the so-called “black boxes” — and to retrieve more bodies.
A French patrol boat is carrying a doctor to help with the search for remains. Anything it finds would first be reported to Egyptian authorities and French justice officials, the French Navy said.
Relatives of the victims were giving DNA samples to the forensic team in Cairo to help identify the remains, a security official said. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.