Egypt says that it has spotted and obtained images from the wreckage of the EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea last month, killing all 66 people on board.
The country’s investigation committee said on Wednesday a survey vessel, the John Lethbridge, “had identified several main locations of the wreckage”.
The John Lethbridge has been contracted by the Egyptian government from the Mauritius-based Deep Ocean Search firm to join the search for flight MS804’s debris and flight data recorders.
The committee said the vessel obtained images of the wreckage located between the Greek island of Crete and the Egyptian coast, and that the next step will be drawing a map showing the wreckage location.
The John Lethbridge is equipped with sonar and other equipment capable of detecting wreckage at depths up to 6,000ft.
The EgyptAir Airbus A320, en route to Cairo from Paris, had been cruising normally in clear skies on an overnight flight on May 19 when it crashed.
The radar showed that the aircraft turned 90 degrees left, then a full 360 degrees to the right, plummeting from 38,000ft to 15,000ft before disappearing at about 10,000ft.
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.
Ships and planes from Egypt, Greece, France, the US and other nations have been searching the Mediterranean 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.
‘Black box’ signals
Wednesday’s announcement came nearly two weeks after the French ship Laplace detected signals from the missing aircraft.
Since the crash, only small pieces of wreckage and human remains have been recovered in a search that has been narrowed down to a 5km area of the Mediterranean.
Locator pings emitted by the “black box” – that is, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders – can be picked up from deep underwater.
The Laplace has equipment from Alseamar, a subsidiary of French industrial group Alcen, which can pick up black box pinger signals over distances of up to 5km.
The Laplace is equipped with three detectors designed to pick up those signals, which in the case of the EgyptAir plane are believed to be at a depth of some 9,842ft.
Egyptian investigators said on Sunday that nearly two weeks remain before the batteries of the flight’s data and cockpit voice recorders expire and they stop emitting signals.
If retrieved, the recorders could reveal whether a mechanical fault, a hijacking or a bomb caused the disaster.
The voice recorder should contain a record of the last 30 minutes in the cockpit, and is equipped to detect even loud breathing.
The data recorder would contain technical information on the engines, wings and cabin pressure. Investigators hope the recorders will offer clues as to why there was no distress call.
Finding them without the signals is possible but more difficult.
Sinai air crash
Sherif Fathi, Egypt’s civil aviation minister, has said that 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 armed group has claimed to have downed the jet.
Last October, a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
A local affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft just hours after the crash. In November, Russia said an explosive device brought down the aircraft.
The two disasters have unsettled authorities at the Cairo airport, where false alarms or bomb threats have caused lengthy delays to flights and at least one cancellation last week.