An Egyptair Airbus A320 airbus. Picture: REUTERS
A SEARCH team on Thursday recovered the cockpit voice recorder from the EgyptAir jetliner that crashed into the Mediterranean in May in a major step towards establishing the cause of the tragedy.
The device was found broken into pieces, but the salvage experts retrieved the recorder’s crucial memory unit, Egypt’s civil aviation authority said.
Officials were preparing to transfer the recorder from a search vessel in the Mediterranean to Egypt for analysis, a statement said.
The voice recorder keeps track of conversations and other sounds in the pilots’ cabin.
The breakthrough came hours after a deep-sea robot located pieces of the main body of the aircraft at the bottom of the Mediterranean.
Airbus said the flight recorders held the key to unlocking the mystery of why the aircraft went down with 66 people on board en route from Paris to Cairo nearly a month ago.
“The first photos of the wreckage do not allow (the establishment of) any scenario of the accident,” an Airbus statement said.
“Only the black boxes could contribute to a full understanding of the chain of events which led to this tragic accident.”
Investigators have said it is too soon to determine what caused flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo to crash on May 19, although a terror attack has not been ruled out.
The search vessel John Lethbridge, equipped with an underwater robot, arrived in Egypt last week to begin searching an area around 290km north off the Egyptian coast.
The robot discovered pieces of the fuselage at “several sites”, the Egyptian board of inquiry said on Wednesday.
A source close to the investigation told AFP that the deep-sea robot, which is operated by Mauritia -based Deep Ocean Search, had found “small fragments” of the aircraft.
Some wreckage with belongings of passengers has been fished out of the Mediterranean by search teams in May.
Search teams are still looking for the flight data recorder, which gathers information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane.
The area in which the aircraft crashed is believed to be about 3,000m deep and the black boxes should have had enough battery power to emit signals for four to five weeks.
France’s aviation safety agency has said the EgyptAir plane transmitted automated messages indicating smoke in the cabin and a fault in the flight-control unit minutes before disappearing from radar screens.
On Monday, Egyptian investigators confirmed that the aircraft had made a 90° left turn followed by a 360° turn to the right before hitting the sea.
Investigators were able to narrow down the search site, thanks to an emergency signal sent via satellite by the airliner’s locator transmitter when it hit the Mediterranean.
The passengers on the aircraft were 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, two Iraqis, two Canadians, and citizens from Algeria, Belgium, Britain, Chad, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The passengers included a boy and two babies.
Seven crew members and three security personnel were also on board flight 804.
The crash came after the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula last October that killed all 224 people on board.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack within hours, but there has been no such claim linked to the EgyptAir crash.
Islamic State has been waging a deadly insurgency against Egyptian security forces and has claimed attacks in both France and Egypt.
In October, foreign governments issued travel warnings for Egypt and demanded a review of security at its airports after Islamic State said it had downed the Russian airliner over the Sinai with a bomb concealed in a cooldrink can that had been smuggled onboard.