CAIRO, July 5 (UPI) — The second “black box” from EgyptAir Flight MS804 appears to offer a vital clue to investigators — that a fire was burning in the final minutes before the jetliner crashed into the Mediterranean Sea six weeks ago, authorities said Tuesday.
Technicians were able to repair the cockpit voice recorder, which was found damaged last month, and listen to the final moments recorded on the flight deck. According to Egyptian investigators, the audio recording reveals that members of the flight crew were attempting to put out flames near the front of the plane, where officials have already known smoke detectors were tripped.
The CVR provides support for what investigators already suspected, that a fire had started aboard the Airbus A320 at cruising altitude, or 37,000 feet, during a trip from Paris to Cairo on May 19. Sixty-six people died when the jetliner went down.
The cause of the crash is still being investigated but authorities believe the fire may have burned away vital flight controls or incapacitated the pilots.
The flight data recorder and the plane’s ACARS communication system previously told investigators that smoke was detected near the avionics bay and a front lavatory — and wreckage indicated high temperature and soot damage at the front of the plane, such as would result from a fire.
The crew’s apparent attempts to put out the fire, captured on the voice recorder, is the first solid proof that actual flames, not just smoke, had started on the plane. Officials believe the avionics bay, a small closet-sized suite beneath the floor of the cockpit that houses modules and other electronic systems, may have been where the fire originated.
Officials also believe it was a fast-moving fire because the flight crew never sent a distress call — likely because they were busy trying to douse the flames. While the plane was still at cruise altitude, the flight recorders abruptly stopped, leading investigators to believe that’s when the fire cut power to the equipment.
Authorities have left open the possibility that terrorism or sabotage might have brought the plane down, but so far no evidence supports those theories. All indications so far indicate a technical malfunction.
A fire at 35,000 feet is one of the most dire scenarios a flight crew can face. If a blaze broke out on EgyptAir Flight MS804, investigators want to find the cause quickly — because the Airbus A320 is one of the most popular airliners in the world, with more than 6,600 presently in service and another 5,500 on order.