Egypt deploys submarine to find crashed jet's black boxes

Cairo: Egypt on Sunday deployed a submarine to hunt for the crucial black boxes of an EgyptAir plane in the Mediterranean, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said as he asserted that no theory was being favoured in the probe into what caused the jet to crash with 66 people on board.

A submarine belonging to Egypt's Oil Ministry that could operate at a depth of 3,000 metres under the sea level had been deployed for the purpose, Sisi said in a live televised address, also his first public comments on Thursday's crash.

"This (submarine) moved today in the direction of the plane crash because we are working hard to retrieve the two boxes, which are the black boxes," he said, in remarks that began with a minute of silence, adding: "All the theories are possible."

"There is no particular theory we can affirm right now," he added, even as the Egyptian aviation minister had earlier said that terrorism was more likely than technical failure in causing the ill-fated EgyptAir Flight MS804, en route from Paris to Cairo, to plunge into the waters.

Investigators continued to piece together clues for a potential breakthrough even as some reports of an audio from the jet and even of locating the black boxes emerged.

Multinational searchers scouring the waters 290 kms north of Alexandria have made headway by recovering debris, passengers' belongings, body parts, luggage and aircraft seats from the jet, that initially went 'missing' and was later declared crashed.

Sisi said "it is very, very important to us to establish the circumstances that led to the crash of that aircraft" even as he pointed out it "will take time" to determine the exact cause of the tragedy that has seen no survivors. His remarks come a day after French authorities also said "all theories are being examined and none is favoured".

Smoke was detected inside the cabin of the Airbus A320 minutes before it plunged into the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people on board, including children. France's aviation safety agency said the plane had transmitted automated messages indicating smoke in the cabin and the pilot's flight control unit.

However, reports said the first available audio from the plane showed the pilot in normal contact with Swiss air traffic controllers, hours before officials lost contact with the jet.

Control: "EgyptAir804 contact Padova 1-2-0, decimal 7-2-5, good night." Pilot: "This is 0-7-2-5 Padova control. (Unintelligible) 8-0-4. Thank you so much. Good day, er, good night." This and the smoke alerts indicate a sudden, dramatic turn of events that led to the plane making "sudden swerves" before dropping off radar over the Mediterranean. It made a 90-degree turn left, and then dropped from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet before swerving 360 degrees right.

Egypt's military displayed wreckage and personal belongings yesterday. The chunks of debris included an uninflated life vest, a seat, a purse, shoes, carpet, a scarf, parts of chairs and cushions and a sling bag. The EgyptAir label appeared on one piece of wreckage.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said "the search is ongoing". "It has uncovered initial pieces of the aircraft, body parts, belongings of the deceased, and it will continue hopefully until we can ascertain exactly where the plane has gone down," he told CNN.

Shoukry said it was not clear how long the searchers will take to recover the cockpit voice and flight data recorders - the so-called black boxes - to shed crucial information about what was going on during the final moments before the crash.

"We do not, I think, have the technical abilities to operate in such deep waters, whereas many of our partners might have this facility," he said, referring to the US, France, Britain, Russia and others cooperating in the search.

Meanwhile, CBS News, quoting an Egyptian government source, reported that search crews located the data recorders close to an area where human remains and debris from the crashed flight were found. The report further said there hasbeen no official confirmation, and EgyptAir did not confirm or deny that the black boxes have been located.

French authorities have said that "finding the plane is of course the priority, along with finding the black boxes to analyse them, which will allow us to answer legitimate questions".

France's "dual goal" is to offer "solidarity with the families but also transparency... on the circumstances of this plane's disappearance," said Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, at yesterday's news conference with the families of the victims, that include 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, and one person each from the UK, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

The tragedy has raised fears of a repeat of the bombing of a Russian passenger jet by the Islamic State over Egypt last October that killed all 224 people on board though the dreaded group has not claimed reponsibility for the crash despite issuing a new video yesterday that called for attacks
on the US and European countries during Ramzan.

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