Tuesday 27 September 2016

Egypt sends a robot sub 'to hunt for jet's black box'

Ahmed Aboulenein and Amina Ismail in Cairo

Published 23/05/2016 | 02:30

Relatives and friends of EgyptAir hostess Yara Hani (portrait), who was on board Flight 804 mourn during prayers at a church in Cairo. Photo: Getty
Relatives and friends of EgyptAir hostess Yara Hani (portrait), who was on board Flight 804 mourn during prayers at a church in Cairo. Photo: Getty
Passengers’ personal belongings and other wreckage from the plane recovered from the Mediterranean sea Photo: AP

Egypt has sent a robot submarine to join the hunt for an EgyptAir plane which crashed in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people on board, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said yesterday.

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Ships and planes scouring the sea north of Alexandria have found body parts, personal belongings and debris from the Airbus 320, but are still trying to locate the black box recorders that could shed light on the cause of last Thursday's crash.

Mr Sisi said that underwater equipment from Egypt's offshore oil industry was being brought in to help the search.

"They have a submarine that can reach 3,000 metres under water," he said in a televised speech. "It moved today in the direction of the plane crash site because we are working hard to salvage the black boxes."

An oil ministry source said Sisi was referring to a robot submarine used mostly to maintain offshore oil rigs. It was not clear whether the vessel would be able to help locate the black boxes, or would be used in later stages of the operation.

Air crash investigation experts say the search teams have around 30 days to listen for pings sent out once every second from beacons attached to the two black boxes. At this stage of the search they would typically use acoustic hydrophones, bringing in more advanced robots later to scan the seabed and retrieve any objects once they have been found.

EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo vanished off radar screens early on Thursday as it entered Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean. The 10 crew and 56 passengers included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals.

French investigators say that the plane sent a series of warnings indicating that smoke had been detected on board shortly before it disappeared.

The signals did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire, and aviation experts have not ruled out either deliberate sabotage or a technical fault, but they offered early clues as to what unfolded in the moments before the crash.

"Until now all scenarios are possible," Mr Sisi said in his first public remarks on the crash. "So please, it is very important that we do not talk and say there is a specific scenario."

The crash was the third blow since October to hit Egypt's travel industry, still reeling from political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

A suspected Isil bombing brought down a Russian airliner after it took off from Sharm al-Sheikh airport in late October, killing all 224 people on board, and an EgyptAir plane was hijacked in March by a man wearing a fake suicide belt.Isil claimed responsibility for the Sharm al-Sheikh bombing within hours but a purported statement from Isil spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, distributed on Saturday, made no mention of the latest crash.

The October crash devastated Egyptian tourism, a main source of foreign exchange for a country of 80 million people.

The latest incident could crush hopes for a swift recovery.

Meanwhile, EgyptAir has told relatives of the victims that recovering and identifying bodies from the sea could take weeks, adding to the pain and uncertainty of grieving families.

Irish Independent

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