Cause Of Deadly EgyptAir Crash Finally Revealed?

Filed Under: EgyptAir

Oh EgyptAir…

EgyptAir’s Mysterious Plane Crashes

EgyptAir has historically had a not-amazing safety record, and perhaps most alarming has been that the cause of two crashes remains unknown. This is concerning because airlines can’t do anything to improve safety if they’re not able to (or are unwilling to) figure out or admit what happened.

The two crashes that stand out are the following:

  • In 1999 EgyptAir 990 crashed enroute from New York to Cairo; most international investigators agree that the relief pilot intentionally crashed the plane, while Egyptian authorities strongly dispute that
  • In 2016 EgyptAir 804 crashed enroute from Paris to Cairo; up until now the cause has been unknown, with Egyptian investigators insisting that a bomb detonated onboard, though international investigators have disputed that

It’s incredibly mysterious that the cause of a plane crash as recent as 2016 can’t be determined. Then again, a 777 disappeared into thin air just a few years prior to that, so I guess nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

Anyway, it looks like we now have a better sense of what caused the crash of EgyptAir 804.

EgyptAir 804 Basics & Theories

EgyptAir 804 was scheduled to fly from Paris to Cairo on May 19, 2016, and was operated by an A320. The plane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, and killed all 66 people onboard.

Up until now Egyptian authorities have insisted that a bomb went off on the plane. They’ve based this on traces of TNT being found on the bodies of victims, though since bodies were in seawater for several weeks, other authorities said it was normal for traces of such explosives to be found. Furthermore, these were never found on the bodies of French victims that were returned to the country.

International investigators have disputed this theory all along. They say that a smoke detector in the forward lavatory went off, and that shortly before the crash passengers moved towards the back of the plane, suggesting there was a fire near the front of the plane.

Some Clues As To What Really Happened

The Wall Street Journal has revealed disturbing findings from an investigation into what happened to EgyptAir 804.

The issue seems to stem from the fact that Egyptian authorities were in charge of the investigation (since it was an EgyptAir plane), and they’ve withheld key information from other investigators.

They simply insisted that a bomb brought down the plane, but were unwilling to share a lot of their findings, citing the secrecy of their counterterrorism inquiry.

Now a French judicial probe has been completed (since French citizens died on the plane), which paints a very different picture of what happened. They have determined that maintenance and safety lapses left the plane unsafe to fly in the days before it crashed. Specifically, a leak of oxygen in the cockpit preceded a fire that likely disabled the plane.

According to this investigation, automated messages from the A320 involved in the crash reported serious mechanical errors on the final five flights, and those were largely ignored by the airline.

The pilots on these flights never mentioned the issues in post-flight reports, even though these issues should have set off alarms inside the plane. The EgyptAir ground technician also said that neither the airline nor the pilots informed him of these issues. On top of that, investigators are questioning if the EgyptAir technician in Paris who inspected the plane was qualified to service aircraft in Europe.

According to the documents from the investigation:

“The plane should have been checked during its four previous flights, and should not have left Cairo after the appearance of repeated faults that were not reported by successive teams.”

It’s clear that the Egyptian officials have been trying to block this investigation to such a great degree. In May 2018 the French and Egyptians met in Cairo, and French authorities were allowed to view aircraft debris, but not touch it. The French asked for a copy of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, but Egyptian authorities refused, citing it as a secret criminal investigation.

But as it turns out, information was even being withheld between French investigators. France’s air crash investigation bureau held a backup copy of the data for quite a while, but refused to share it with the French judicial probe, arguing that they promised Egyptian authorities that they wouldn’t. So arguably that delayed the investigation by about 18 months.

Bottom Line

While I’ve enjoyed my flights on EgyptAir, it’s always disheartening and irresponsible for an airline (or perhaps country in this case, since EgyptAir is state owned) to be more focused on covering up problems and fault, than to focus on making the airline as safe as possible (in fairness, Boeing could be described in a similar way at the moment).

I’m happy to see that we’re getting closer to finding out what really happened to EgyptAir 804.

(Featured image courtesy of Aktug Ates)

  1. An EU blacklist on EgyptAir should at the very least be considered. Moreover, does no one else find it odd that we got comfortable with the TNT explanation? Maybe because Cairo Airport has had several security lapses in the past, as well?

  2. Good article. As a side note, you’ve said, “I’ve enjoyed my flights on EgyptAir.” Isn’t that a little overstating it?

  3. Oxygen leak followed by a fire – that’s the oxygen tank under the cockpit floor igniting, I’ve actually suspected for a while that this is what happened. Similar incidents have happened on the ground, for example on a DHL 767 and – even more importantly – an EGYPTAIR 777. Luckily in these incidents the planes were evacuated and nobody was hurt, but such an occurrence in the air would be (and I guess in this instance was) absolutely disastrous.

  4. As I wrote on another blog:

    If you want to make your hair stand on end, click on the below link and read what happened on MS 990. It must have been absolutely terrifying for those onboard.

    I trained as an Egyptologist and lived in Luxor; flying United Arab Airlines and later EgyptAir many times, but since the crash of flight 990 I’ve never stepped aboard an EgyptAir plane.

  5. I‘m sure there will be no consequences, such as blacklisting. Egypt is politically and economically a key partner of both the US and the EU in the region. The blacklists concentrate on jurisdictions which are politically and economically non-compliant, e.g. Iran, Venezuela, Sudan; or which are extremely small and of little global relevance, e.g. Sao Tomé or the Comores.

    Btw, the same pattern can be observed with travel warnings.

  6. As John mentioned, such behavior on the part of the government is very normal in Egypt. I’ve lived and travelled in Egypt extensively and can say it’s only getting worse, unfortunately.

  7. Malc’s comment about William Langewiesche’s great article on EgyptAir 990….yes, an excellent descriptor of the event.

    The eye opener for me, from investigator Bernard Loeb: “How many cockpit voice recordings have I heard? Hundreds? Thousands? When someone has a problem with an airplane, you know it. One of our investigators used to say to me, ‘These damned pilots, they don’t tell us what’s happening. Why don’t they say, “It’s the rudder!”‘ They don’t do that. But I’ll tell you what they do say. They make clear as hell that there’s something really wrong. ‘What the hell’s going on? What is that?’ Every single one of them. When there’s a control problem of some sort, it is so crystal clear that they are trying desperately to diagnose what is going on. Right to when the recorder quits. They are fighting for their lives.

    “But this guy is sitting there saying the same thing in a slow, measured way, indicating no stress. The captain comes in and asks what’s going on, and he doesn’t answer! That’s what you start with. Now you take the dual actuator failure that doesn’t match the flight profile, and is also fully recoverable. Where do you want to go after that?”

    The plane is in a dive, and the only pilot in the cockpit is calmly sitting there as if on a park bench. Then a split column? I asked a United 767 pilot about the crash not long after it occurred, and he shuddered at the thought.

  8. I predict you’ll continue to enjoy your flights on Egypt Air, not only because you’re Lucky,
    but also because when your flight crashes we can then just presume you enjoyed most of the flight.

  9. Went to Egypt about 5 years ago with my sons….couldn’t bring myself to book Egyptian….so we took Turkish Air….5 hr delay (apparently common on late flight to Istanbul)….now I kind of regret the time wasted….but who knows……Egypt air a bit scary…but I did fly it internally from Aswan to Cairo……

  10. We flew Egypt Air about 10 years ago from Larnaca to Nairobi and had a rather ordinary flight . Cairo airport was the worst experience , we had about 10 hours stopover and they committed a hotel . It took 2 hours to arrange and get on a shuttle bus at airport , about 30 minutes to hotel and then we had to return to airport for be there 3 hours before flight ( they insisted ) . So we had about 4 hours sleep in the 2 star hotel !!
    Never again.

  11. Unfortunately all the comments I read are very biased against EGYPTAIR. The Egyptian flag carrier is one of the pioneer airlines in the world (established in 1932). Having two fatal crashes over a span of two decades does not qualify an airline to be blacklisted, otherwise we would find a number of big European/US famous carriers join the list. Please stop these unfair and provoking comments and deal with the matter in a more pragmatic approach and stop this trend of demonizing anything which is non-western

  12. @ A Realistic Passenger — The objections are to systematic attempts to cover up what happened. It seems reasonable to protest that. (Once again, I urge you to read William Langewiesche’s article – see above. He’s one of the world’s leading longform journalists and probably the finest one writing on aviation.)

  13. I flew Egyptair from Luxor to Cairo last year. I also flew Nile Air from Cairo to Aswan. Unremarkable flights.

  14. why is anyone surprised. Deception, denial and lying is common in this part of the world. Remember when the Egypt Air pilot committed suicide and took down the plane ? I am surprised that more plane, operated by sub-par countries, aren’t crashing.

    Flyer beware – Do not fly these airlines !

  15. Went to Egypt in 2008. Will never go back. Worst airport experience both IN and OUT that I ever had. Talk about a *%$!hole of a country…

  16. an excellent, even handed article.

    i agree with (many) others that EgyptAir should be added to the EU black list – the only way that they might be forced to improve maintenance.

  17. I am surprised as hell nothing has been done to bring this more to light, and to use diplomatic or sanctions (EU or US ban on flights) measures to try to get adherence to international maintenance practices. This is a real outlier and threatens passenger safety. I really believe it’s up to the US and EU governments to keep their citizens safe by requiring proper SOP for the airlines flying into their airspace. With little to no publicity regarding these findings (at least in the US) anyone who is not an aviation geek will blithely pick the cheapest option assuming it’s safe. An airline with apparent systemic failures to report issues, address issues quickly, and then cover up incidents is just a disaster waiting to happen.

    Thanks for the informative article. (and I am still going to Egypt for work this year, and to see the sites, but not on this airline).

  18. In a courtroom no one is guilty until both parties have made their case. Reading your comments shows only one side

  19. I know with 99% confidance what caused MS 804 to crash and hit the water in the Mediterranean killing all 66 souls on board.
    If I am allowed by the moterator to present my case in 10 steps, I can assure you latest in step 10 -may be before, you will know what caused the crash of MS 804.

    Step 1: Read up again on TWA800

  20. This is step 2 in the process adding up solving MS 804 mystery:

    Step 2: The cause downing MS 804 was NOTa mobile phone, bomb, terror, fire, technical malfunctions, human errors, suicide. The 1% left in 100% is friendly fire like the TWA 800 cause most likely was.

  21. Step 3 out of 10 steps, in presenting the cause that brought MS804 down. There is a connection between MS804 and TWA800. TWA800 exploded clearly visible from Long Island 1996 killing 220 and 700 witnesses saw the TWA 800 when it went down in the Atlandic Ocean. 75% of the witnesses saw a missile hitting TWA800, 25% saw a meteorite hitting TWA800. A lot of interest was on the missile and very little on meteorite. NTSB then decided to ask a specialist to write a paper on the meteorite alternative. NTSB decided William Cassidy should prepare the paper

  22. STEP 4: NTSB decided to get independant specialist to write a paper that can convince the public that meteorites never will be able to hit an airplane. NTSB hired William A. Cassidy to do the job. That was a good choice. William A. Cassidy has a good knowledge of meteorides but no knowledge of. airplanes. William A. Cassidy defined a model for the probability that a meteorite hits an airplane.The model has the following parameters. Annual numbers of meteorite, number of aircrafts with different size, geography of the area exposed to a potential aircraft meteorite collision.

  23. STEP 6: But William A. Cassidy was not the only one on defining a model for risk calculation of the event meteorite hits aircraft. In New York Times a letter-to-editor was published by two professors Charles Hailey and David Helfand on 17th September, 1976 The same question answered by William A. Cassidy one collision can be expected in 59,000 to 77,000 years was answered by Hailey and Helfand they state there is a 1-in-10 chance that a commercial flight would have been knocked from the sky by meteoric impact. Cassidy, in next 59,000 years there will be one incident. Hailey and Helfand, there will be 5,900.
    Somebody must be wrong, very wrong. Almost 25 years and I think I know the answer on who is wrong

  24. I will be moving next days. I do not know for how long. STEP 7 will come with the arguments MS 804 was shut down by a meteorite. Already now one can give EgyptAir any guilt in the ms 804 disaster.

  25. @ Kjeld Wessel Wetlesen :

    What happens after Step 9? Will you tell us to send $100 to receive a pack on how to make $2,000 per day working from home, and only then do we find out the big secret?

    This conspiracy theory is all getting rather boring. Take your time with your move….

  26. @red_robo: Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you. Conspiracy theory is boring.

  27. @ Kjeld Wessel Wetlesen :

    As boring and ridiculous as your whole presentation, I’m afraid.

  28. STEP 1: I am back almost one week later than expected due to medical reasons. But now I continue my take on was happened on board MS 804 the night on almost 4 years ago. The cause to the crash is not found and Egypt Air, who owned the aircraft that crashed, has closed the investigation and blocked any access to the wreckage which is buried deep in the sea.
    I am convinced a Meteorite hit MS804 and destroyed the flight deck. My explanation is always rejected and the argument for rejecting can be found in a paper prepared by Willian A. Cassidy for NTSB investigation in the TWA 800 disaster. In that paper William A. Cassidy predict the frequency of meteorites hit aircrafts is one event in 59,000 years.
    The problem with the Cassidy paper is that the data used by William A. Cassidy are in many cases wrong and if you use wrong data you will get wrong results. Let us have a look on the data errors I claim are in the Cassidy model.:
    1) Only events in the air over USA minus Alaska and Hawaii are included in the model, therefore 96 % of the Earth are left out
    2) Only meteorites making damage on USA mainland are included. Since the beginning of flying, William A. Cassidy can only find 13 events in almost 100 years
    3) The footprint of small and big planes is too little. Cassidy has footprint for a big plane 93 m2 where Airbus 380 is 845 m2 according Airbus
    4) Cassidy do not count aircrafts on the ground.
    The airline idutry will urgently need a revised model and I have made one “The Wessel-model” and instead of 59,000 years per event, the Wessel model predict 1,400 years.
    The Cassidy model is not any longer a show stopper and the true story about MS 804 can be told.

  29. STEP 8: Now it is time to reveal the cause of the crash of MS 804. The old argument declaring Meteorites a useless conspiratory is no longer valid. In previous comment (7) wrong data in the Cassidy paper was nailed. Cassidy is predicting 59,000 years will pass before we see a collision between a meteorite and an aircraft. With better data quality Cassidy was replaced by the Wessel model where 59,000 years becomes 1,400 years.

    With green light we can go ahead analyzing and defining the cause. Often in aircraft disasters, there is only one defining cause.


    To verify the claim we only need one source, i.a. ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) is an automatic error reporting system which receives and sends error messages to the pilots and an on-ground station, without any interference from the pilots themselves.

    Here are the ACARS messages received right around the time of the accident and most important in the correct sequence:

    00:26Z3044 ANTI ICE R WINDOW
    The first ACARS error message concerns the de-icing system on the right side of the cockpit. De-icing of windows is also known from modern cars. It consists of a row of small metal wires embedded in the window. By running an electric current through the wires, the windowpane is heated up and the ice melts. Here you could get the idea that the window had broken.

    Not all windows in the cockpit are fixed. There are sliding windows on both the right and the left side. The error message points to an error in the right sliding window.

    00:26Z 2600 LAVATORY SMOKE
    At the same minute, the ACARS reported errors by the windows and smoke in the lavatory, which is located directly behind the cockpit.

    00:27Z 2600 AVIONICS SMOKE
    The minute after smoke was reported in the lavatory, more errors are detected in the systems that are in avionics, which are gathered at the back of the cockpit. Avionics is an umbrella term for the multitude of systems used for monitoring and controlling modern airplanes.

    00:28Z 561100 FIXED WINDOW SENSOR
    Now there are also an error in the fixed window on the right side.

    00:29Z 2200 AUTO FTU FCU 2 FAULT
    One of the two autopilot systems reports errors.

    00:29Z 2700 F/CLT SEC 3 FAULT
    The second autopilot reports errors.

    If the front window was broken, the pilots would have been subject to a hurricane four times more powerful than a category 5 hurricane. On CVR, which records sound and conversation in the cockpit, the word “fire” can be heard as the last thing said by the pilots. Both pilots die and the plane crashes into the Mediterranean Sea.

    Captain B. Svendsen, retired chief pilot and flight instructor:

    “What’s interesting here and can perhaps support your meteor strike theory is the ONLY word «FIRE» from the CVR. […] I would imagine that’s the only word, if any at all, there might be time to say if you’re hit by a meteor in flight (hit the pressurized fuselage).”

    ACARS does not receive more messages,

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