EgyptAir pilot 'made sudden descent' to extinguish fire
Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30
The mystery over the MS804 disaster took a new twist after it was claimed the pilot carried out a "sudden descent" in a bid to extinguish a fire on board.
Aviation sources in Paris say that Mohamed Ali Shoukair told Egyptian air traffic controllers that he needed to attempt an emergency landing as the plane was filling up with smoke.
According to the French TV station M6, a conversation of "several minutes" took place as Mr Shoukair struggled to keep control of the aircraft.
The claims contradict the investigators' account of the crash, as they say there was no radio contact from the pilot before MS804 crashed into the sea. And EgyptAir officials have denied M6's report, insisting: "[The] claims made by the French TV station are not true. The pilot did not contact Egypt air control before the incident."
Emergency descents can be dangerous as they can cause major changes in cabin air pressure and, it was speculated, may have led to the plane plunging 37,0000 feet into the Mediterranean Sea.
It was not the only controversial theory behind the crash to be offered yesterday, as a Turkish newspaper quoted an airline pilot as saying he saw a "an unidentified object with green flashing lights" pass over Istanbul just one hour before the air disaster.
"Then it disappeared all of a sudden. We are guessing that it was a UFO," the pilot told 'Hurriet Daily News'.
Egyptian investigators say it is too early to say for sure what caused the crash.
It comes as the first body parts of the victims were returned to Cairo last night in preparation for the grim task of identifying those who lost their lives in the disaster.
And in France, the Paris airports authority said it had no plans to tighten security further after the EgyptAir crash after airport workers expressed concern on Sunday about weak spots in the systems.
Pauline Godebout, an airline desk officer, said there were "sometimes" identity checks at entrances to terminals at Charles de Gaulle airport.
"But they don't do it all the time. I think it's a budget issue. It's expensive and there are so many doors to the airport that it's very difficult to secure them all."
An airports authority spokesman said that security had already been stepped up after recent terrorist attacks.
He said people entering the airport were sometimes required to produce identity documents before being allowed in, but this was not done systematically to avoid creating long queues outside.
"Spot checks of people's identities are carried out on a random basis," he said.
"We have to strike a balance between security and inconveniencing travellers.
"The question is, do you really increase security or are you just moving the risk to another area?"
Identity checks were introduced outside Brussels terminal entrances after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in March in the check-in area. However, the Paris spokesman pointed out that they "created queues of hundreds of people" that could also be a target.
"There is nothing to indicate a security flaw at Charles de Gaulle," he said.
But Céline, a parking attendant, expressed concern that a lack of manpower and funding left the airport vulnerable to an attack.
"For an airport, I think the level of security here is really not enough. We are responsible for identifying abandoned bags.
"We deal with about five alerts a week. And I think the police response is too slow. Even when they seal off the area, it's still not enough to protect us. It takes the bomb disposal squad between 30 minutes and an hour to arrive, and that's easily enough time for a bomb to go off."
Asked if she thought a bomb could be planted on a plane on the ground at the airport, she said: "I think it could happen. There are checks but they're not systematic enough."
She said she had been "really scared" since the Brussels bombings and was relieved that she was quitting her job in a week after a six-month contract. "I can't wait to go," she said.
Meanwhile, families of the 66 victims were warned it might be weeks before bodies are recovered, as the Egyptian government admitted a submarine being used in the search might be unable to operate at extreme depths. The submarine can reach depths of 9,800 feet but parts of the Mediterranean are even deeper. It is not even clear whether the submarine will be able to recover the black box recorders - even if it locates them.