EgyptAir jet sent smoke alarm warnings before crash

PARIS: France’s aviation safety agency said on Saturday that the EgyptAir A320 that crashed into the eastern Mediterranean with 66 people on board had transmitted automatic messages indicating smoke in the cabin.

“There were ACARS messages emitted by the plane indicating that there was smoke in the cabin shortly before data transmission broke off,” a spokesman of France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analysis said, confirming earlier media reports.

ACARS, which stands for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, is a digital system that transmits short messages between aircraft and ground stations.

The spokesman said it was “far too soon to interpret and understand the cause of Thursday’s accident as long as we have not found the wreckage or the flight data recorders.” The signals indicated there was smoke in the front toilets near the cockpit, an expert said.

According to the specialised aviation website the Aviation Herald, the ACARS messages read “smoke lavatory smoke” then “avionics smoke” — referring to the plane’s electronic systems — then a “fault” with the FCU, the pilots’ flight control unit in the cockpit.

The warnings began about three minutes before air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that automated warning messages indicated smoke in the nose of the aircraft and an apparent problem with the flight control system.

The messages indicated intense smoke in the front portion of the plane, specifically the lavatory and the equipment compartment beneath the cockpit.

The error warnings also indicated that the flight control computer hadmalfunctioned, the report said.

Also on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said no theory on the cause of the crash has yet been ruled out, though Egypt’s aviation minister has pointed to terrorism as more likely than technical failure.

“At this time… all theories are being examined and none is favoured,” Ayrault told a news conference after meeting with around 100 relatives of passengers who were aboard the doomed flight.

“The reports circulating here and there, which by the way are sometimes contradictory, give rise too often to nearly definitive conclusions,” he said, warning of the “painful tension” caused to the families of the victims.

Crash investigators briefed the relatives on what is known so far and the procedures for establishing the cause.

“Methods and procedures for identifying the victims” were also explained to the families, Ayrault said.