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Report Says Smoke Was Detected In EgyptAir Plane Before Crash

Planes sit on the tarmac at Cairo's airport Thursday after an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo disappeared over the Mediterranean with 66 people onboard.
Khaled Desouki
AFP/Getty Images
Planes sit on the tarmac at Cairo's airport Thursday after an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo disappeared over the Mediterranean with 66 people onboard.

Updated May 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Automated transmissions from the missing EgyptAir plane reportedly indicate smoke was detected in a bathroom. The data are among the last bits of information collected from Flight 804, which disappeared from radar and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea as it headed for Cairo on Wednesday.

On Friday evening, The Aviation Herald published data it says are from Flight 804's Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. ACARS data are regularly transmitted by aircraft to ground stations during flight. The data include information about key systems and in the past have provided early clues about aircraft accidents.

The data showed smoke was detected in a bathroom shortly before the aircraft went down. From the publication:

There is no indication of what — if anything — the data have to do with the plane crash.

Debris From The Aircraft Discovered

Earlier Friday, the Egyptian military said it had found human remains and other items from Flight 804 in the Mediterranean Sea, off Egypt's coastline.

The statement said that country's navy had recovered some passenger belongings 180 miles from the port city of Alexandria and was searching for the rest of the wreckage.

"This time, Egypt says the items discovered are from the missing plane," NPR's Emily Harris reported from Cairo. "Late Thursday, other finds in the area turned out to be unrelated debris."

Egypt's armed forces and navy found more debris later Friday, including body parts, luggage and plane seats, according to the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The European Space Agency said a radar satellite had detected a possible oil slick in the Mediterranean, in the same area where the Airbus A320 disappeared. It added that there is "no guarantee that the slick is from the missing aircraft."

Search For The Cause Of The Crash

In a statement, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he "mourns the victims on board the EgyptAir flight which crashed in the Mediterranean Sea en route from Paris to Cairo." Prior to this statement, official press releases had described the plane as missing, rather than crashed. He vowed to continue the investigation and "to establish the truth and the causes of the crash."

Authorities are still looking for the aircraft's flight data recorders — which could shed light on why the plane crashed, Emily says.

The Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry says it has formed an investigative committee. Egyptian state media reported that three French investigators and a representative of Airbus had arrived in Egypt. British investigators will also "inspect what the army has found," The Associated Press reports.

Flight 804 disappeared between Paris and Cairo early Thursday morning with 66 people onboard.

The Airbus A320 departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport shortly after 5 p.m. ET (11 p.m. in Paris).

At 7:48 p.m. ET (1:48 a.m. in Cairo), Greek air traffic controllers were in touch with the plane and no problems were reported. Greek aviation officials said that was the last Greek contact with the plane; a later attempt to talk to the crew was unsuccessful, the Two-Way reported Thursday.

Egyptian officials said Egypt's last air traffic control contact with the plane was at 8:30 p.m. ET (2:30 a.m. in Cairo). At approximately 8:45 p.m. ET (2:45 a.m. in Cairo) the plane vanished from radar, and Egypt's attempt to reconnect with the plane received no response.

According to the Egyptian civil aviation authorities, the flight was 37,000 feet over the Mediterranean at the time of its disappearance. It was traveling through Egyptian airspace, shortly after leaving Greek skies. The plane is presumed to have crashed in the sea.

As the Two-Way reported, Egypt, Greece, France, England, Cyprus and Italy all worked to search for the plane after it disappeared from radar, according to Egypt's military spokesman. A U.S. Navy patrol aircraft also joined the search, the Navy said.

Egypt: Terrorist Attack More Likely Than Technical Failure

A relative of a passenger on EgyptAir Flight 804 cries at Cairo International Airport as she tries to get information about the plane's fate.
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Getty Images
A relative of a passenger on EgyptAir Flight 804 cries at Cairo International Airport as she tries to get information about the plane's fate.

The cause of the plane's disappearance is still unknown, but Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said at a press conference Thursday that the possibility of the plane being brought down by a terrorist attack "is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure."

The plane swerved wildly before going off the radar, said Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, according to the wire service. He said the plane "made a 90-degree left turn, then a full 360-degree turn to the right," before plummeting out of the sky, The Associated Press reported. It added:

Fathy confirmed that no distress signal had come from the plane, as the Two-Way reported.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of Russia's top domestic security agency, was quoted by the AP as saying: "In all likelihood it was a terror attack."

However, no militant groups have claimed responsibility so far.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Thursday evening that the cause of the plane's disappearance is still unknown.

"At this time we do not yet know definitively what caused the disappearance of Flight 804," he said. "The United States stands ready to provide our full support and resources to the Governments of Egypt and France as they investigate this incident."

Weather conditions were clear at the time of the plane's disappearance, Reuters reported.

The Passengers

The 66 people aboard included three security personnel and seven crew members, EgyptAir said. The 56 passengers included one child and two infants. Of the passengers, 30 were Egyptian, 15 French and the remainder a variety of nationalities, the airline said. No Americans were said to be on board.

EgyptAir notified family members of passengers and crew, it said in a statement.

Information about the people aboard the plane has been emerging. The New York Times reports:

The Los Angeles Times has begun compiling information about the people on Flight 804 here.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.