Last updated: 10:45 AM ET, Thu May 19 2016

What Could Have Happened to EgyptAir MS804?

Impacting Travel | Josh Lew | May 19, 2016

What Could Have Happened to EgyptAir MS804?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Until the so-called black box from Egyptair MS804 is found, there can only be speculation about what caused the Paris-Cairo flight to crash into the Mediterranean: an act of terrorism, a mechanical failure, some sort of incident in the cockpit or something else.

What could have happened? 

The head of Russia’s FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, has already pointed to an act of terror: "In all likelihood, this is a terrorist act, as a result of which 66 citizens of various states have been killed.” 

Aviation analysts, meanwhile, told major news outlets like CNN and the BBC that the way the plane appeared to swerve before it dropped off the radar suggested some sort  of incident in the cockpit. Because no distress signals were sent out, it is clear that whatever happened occurred suddenly and crew didn’t have time to send out a mayday call.  

ABC News is reporting that EgyptAir had three security personnel on board the airplane. That seems like a lot given that the flight only had 56 passengers and seven crew members. This could suggest a couple of things. First of all, it makes it less likely that this was a hijacking in the traditional sense. If the crash was not caused by some sort of mechanical failure, whatever happened must have occurred directly in the cockpit, away from the security detail. 

Also, if there were three security people on board a relatively small flight, was Egyptair aware of some sort of a threat to security?

READ MORE: Officials: EgyptAir 804 Swerved Then Crashed

Pilot error?  

The pilots of MS804 both had ample experience. The captain had over 6,000 hours in the air and more than 2,000 on the particular type of Airbus A320. The co-pilot had logged 2,766 flight hours. Reports suggest that the pilot was in good spirits during his last contact with air traffic controllers in Greece. This information seems to contradict the idea that pilot error caused the accident or that the plane was intentionally crash like last year’s Germanwings flight. 

Suspicions surrounding ground crew at de Gaulle

Suspicion has also been cast on employment practices at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the flight originated. French authorities are investigating the employees who were working on the ground when the Egyptair flight left Paris. Since the attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdo last year, more than 70 employees working in secure areas of the Paris airport have been fired after it was shown that they had connections to extremist groups.     

Egyptair’s history

Egyptair has had a few incidents in recent times. A flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked in March. After landing in Cyprus, the hijacker let the 80 passengers go and surrendered to authorities. Police in Cyprus said that the hijacker was not a terrorist but was "psychologically unstable.” 

In one of the worst air incidents over the past two decades, 217 passengers were killed when EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed after taking off from New York. U.S. investigators believe that one of the Boeing 767’s co-pilots intentionally crashed the jet in order to commit suicide. Investigators from Egypt still dispute this claim. 

After the crash and suspected bombing of a Metrojet flight in Egypt last year, Egypt’s airport security has been under the microscope. Authorities have made attempts to improve the security.

Since the plane took off from Paris, Egypt’s airport screening practices are actually not in question in this particular case. However, since Egyptair is the country’s flag carrier and the incident took place in midair with several security personnel on board, there will still be questions about how safe it is to travel to Egypt. This will be yet another hit to the country’s already struggling travel industry. 

More about the cause to the Egyptair crash should be known once the flight recorder is recovered.


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