EgyptAir Flight crash: Evidence from black box suggests fire on board in lavatory, avionics bay

CAIRO, June 29   One of the “black boxes” recovered from EgyptAir Flight 804 has confirmed the possibility of an on board fire in one of the jetliner’s lavatories and avionics bay, Egyptian authorities said Wednesday.

The flight data recorder has been undergoing a thorough analysis in recent days to help investigators clue in on what doomed the Airbus A320 on May 19 during a flight from Paris to Cairo, killing all 66 on board.

The data recorder, one of two mandated pieces of equipment all commercial airliners must carry, was recovered by investigators earlier this month. The box, outfitted in an armored casing, had been damaged in the crash but technicians were able to salvage its information.

Wednesday’s news confirmed what investigators already suspected — that smoke was detected on Flight 804. They first received an indication that was the case weeks ago after reviewing automated messages the plane had sent to EgyptAir’s ACARS communications system while in flight.

Wreckage from the plane’s front end also suggests fire damage, the Egyptian Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee has said.

A fire at 35,000 feet is one of the worst scenarios any flight crew can face. Data from the flight recorder indicates that fire may have broken out aboard Flight 804 while the jetliner was still at cruising altitude. Officials suspect this scenario because power to the box was abruptly cut while the plane was still at 37,000 feet.

The data indicates smoke set off a detector in the plane’s front lavatory, near the flight deck, and in the avionics compartment, beneath the cockpit. A fire so close to the pilots and their critical flight controls has the potential to bring a plane down quickly, officials said.

Investigators now hope to glean additional information from the other box, the cockpit voice recorder, which was also found damaged. It is not yet known whether that recording can be repaired.

Officials hope what was said on the flight deck will help investigators piece together the sequence of events that led to the crash.

The cause of the smoke is not yet known, but experts have speculated that one of the systems in the avionics bay may have malfunctioned, possibly triggering a total power failure aboard Flight 804.

The Airbus A320 had 66 people aboard when it lost contact above the Mediterranean, shortly before the aircraft entered Egyptian airspace. The plane suddenly vanished from the radar as it soared over the Mediterranean from Paris to Cairo on May 19.