Exclusive to The Middle East Online
Edited by Nelly Tawil
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Sunday that Egypt has sent a robot submarine to join the hunt for an EgyptAir plane, which crashed in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people on board.
Personal belongings, debris and body parts from the Airbus 320 have been found by ships and planes scouring the sea north of Alexandria, however are still attempting to locate the black box recorders that could shed light on the cause of Thursday’s crash.
Sisi said that underwater equipment from Egypt’s offshore oil industry was being brought in to help the search.
“They have a submarine that can reach 3000 meters under water,” he reported in a televised speech. “It moved today in the direction of the plane crash site because we are working hard to salvage the black boxes.”
An oil ministry source said Sisi was referring to a robot submarine used mostly to maintain offshore soil rigs. It was not clear whether the vessel would be able to help locate the black boxes, or would be used in later stages of the operation.
Search teams have around 30 days to listen for pings sent out once every second from beacons attached to the two black boxes according to air crash investigation experts.
At this stage of the search they would typically use acoustic hydrophones, bringing in more advanced robots later to scan the seabed and retrieve any objects once they have been found.
EgyptAir flight 804 was entering Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean from Paris to Cairo when it vanished off radar screens early on Thursday. The 10 crew and 56 passengers included 30 Egyptian, 15 French nationals and a dual British-Australian citizen.
The plane sent a series of warnings indicating that smoke had been detected on board shortly before it disappeared, said French investigators.
The signal did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire, and aviation experts have not ruled out wither deliberate sabotage or a technical fault, but they offered early clues as to what unfolded in the moments before the crash.
“Until now all scenarios are possible,” Sisi said in his first public remarks on the crash. “So please, it is very important that we do not talk and say there is a specific scenario.”
The crash was the third blow since October to hit Egypt’s travel industry, still reeling from political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
A suspected Islamic State bombing brought down a Russian airliner after it took off from Sharm al-Sheikh airport in late October, killing all 224 people on board and an EgyptAir plane was hijacked in March by a man wearing a fake suicide belt.
The October crash devastated Egyptian tourism, a main source of foreign exchange for a country of 80 million people.