French air accident investigators say that a rapidly spreading fire probably caused the crash of an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo in 2016, casting doubt on Egyptian authorities’ claims that traces of explosives were found.
French investigation agency BEA said in a statement late Friday that “the most likely hypothesis is that a fire broke out in the cockpit and “spread rapidly, resulting in loss of control.”
Authorities at Cairo airport declined to comment, saying only that state prosecutors were investigating the case. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief journalists on the matter.
Egyptian authorities are carrying out a criminal investigation amid suspicions that explosives were involved.
The BEA has also investigated the crash alongside Egyptian and American experts. In its statement, the French agency cited its “difference of opinion” with the Egyptian conclusions based on evidence collected so far, including the BEA’s advanced repair work on flight recorders found in the Mediterranean depths.
The BEA urged Egyptian prosecutors to investigate the possibility it was an accidental fire, to prevent such accidents in the future. BEA officials met this May with the Egyptian attorney general to urge further work on the debris and recorded data, but were told that since Egyptian authorities believe a “malicious act” brought down the plane, the investigation is “within the sole jurisdiction of the judicial authorities.”
All 66 people aboard were killed when EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus A320 en route from Paris to Cairo, plunged into the Mediterranean. The pilots made no distress call and no militant group claimed to have brought the aircraft down.
The tragedy came about seven months after a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from an Egyptian Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board. The incidents have dealt Egypt’s tourism industry, a major pillar for foreign currency which had already been weakened by years of political unrest since a 2011 uprising, a severe blow.