EgyptAir to Contract French, Italian Companies for Black Boxes Search

French investigation team arrives to the Ministry of Aviation to meet with the aviation minister with regards to EgyptAir flight MS804, at the Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 20, 2016. EgyptAir will contract two foreign companies, one French and one Italian, to help search for the black boxes of its plane that crashed in the Mediterranean. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

CAIRO, May 25 – Egypt is taking on two companies, one French and one Italian, to help search for the black boxes of the EgyptAir plane that crashed in the Mediterranean, the airline’s chairman said on Wednesday

EgyptAir flight 804 crashed on May 19 with 66 people on board including 30 Egyptians and 15 from France, and nearly a week later investigators have no clear picture of the plane’s final moments.

EgyptAir chairman Safwat Musallam did not name the companies involved, but he told a news conference they were able to search at a depth of 3,000 metres.

The plane and its black box recorders, which could explain what brought down the Paris-to-Cairo flight as it entered Egyptian air space, have not been located.

The black boxes are believed to be lying in up to 3,000 metres of water, on the edge of the range for hearing the signals, emitted once a second.

Maritime search experts say this means acoustic hydrophones must be towed in the water at depths of up to 2,000 metres in order to have the best chance of picking up the signals, which should last for 30 days.

Until recently, aviation sources say, the US Navy or its private contractor Phoenix International were considered among the only sources for equipment needed to search on the correct frequency for black box pingers at such depths.

The US Navy said on Tuesday it had not been asked for help.

Sources within the Egyptian investigation committee said earlier on Wednesday that the jet had not shown any sign of technical problems before taking off from Paris.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said the plane disappeared off radar screens less than a minute after entering Egyptian airspace and – contrary to reports from Greece – there was no sign that it had swerved sharply before crashing.

The crew did not make contact with Egyptian air traffic control, they said.

An Egyptian forensics official said 23 bags of body parts had been collected, the largest no bigger than the palm of a hand. The official said their size pointed to an explosion although no trace of explosives had been detected.

But Hisham Abdelhamid, head of Egypt’s forensics authority, said this assessment was “mere assumptions” and that it was too early to draw conclusions.

At least two other sources with direct knowledge of the investigation also said it would be premature to say what caused the plane to plunge into the sea.

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