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Aviation Authorities Examine Evidence From EgyptAir Flight 804


The aftermath of every airline disaster seems to follow a familiar pattern. There's the initial shock. Then there's speculation about the cause. And often, there's misinformation as investigators go about their work. Aviation authorities in at least three countries right now are examining evidence from the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804. And to talk about what's been discovered over the past week and what conclusions might be drawn at this point, we have Alex Macheras on the line. He's an aviation analyst, and we have reached him in London. Mr. Macheras, good morning.

ALEX MACHERAS: Good morning.

GREENE: What exactly do we know at this point? I mean, is there some conclusion coming together about what happened to this plane?

MACHERAS: Well, unfortunately, there isn't. We're approaching a week now, almost, as to when this Airbus A320, en route from Paris to Cairo, disappeared just north of Alexandria in Egypt, over the Mediterranean. Now, in terms of the developments we've had out of Egypt, that maybe could shed some light as to, OK, what happened to this aircraft and, you know, ultimately the fate of these 66 on board. Well, they have released a number of statements in terms of the aircraft swerved. And then they said actually it didn't. And now they've said, well, the aircraft could have been as a result of terrorism, and that's why it went down. And now they're saying actually, well, it might not have been. So everything that has been said from either Greece or from Egypt has immediately been disputed. So we aren't actually any closer in terms of the public knowing just what happened.

GREENE: You mentioned Greece. And I guess we should say here that Greece is important because the plane flew through Greek air space. And I guess Greece is beginning to hand over some key data to Egypt about the plane's route. I'm curious why it's taken a week for Greece to get this information to the investigators.

MACHERAS: You and I both. I mean, Greece's defense minister is the gentleman who released the information quite soon after the crash, saying that actually, Greece had recorded the aircraft spiraling and swerving, as he worded it, 360 degrees and 90 degrees. Now, that's key because the way he's translated the 90-degree turn and the 360-degree turn, he kind of said it as if, well, you know, so that shows that the aircraft was out of control.

But those in the industry, when we heard those degrees and those measurements, said, well, actually, 90 degrees, to turn, is actually standard procedure for an aircraft in difficulty - for example, smoke in the cockpit - when they need to lose altitude quickly.

GREENE: If we're seeing evidence of possible smoke in the cockpit and the pilots responding to that, would that suggest this might not be some sort of explosion, maybe not an act of terrorism?

MACHERAS: Not necessarily, but it definitely keeps it more sort of broad rather than just limiting. I think towards the end of last week we were hearing heavily that actually, this is terrorism. We had, over there in the U.S., your presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, kind of drawing it to a conclusion that actually this was terrorism. And here we've had another tragic event. But, you know, it's important to remember that is not the confirmed case. In terms of what's confirmed, it's actually very little.

GREENE: You mention, I mean, not trying to jump to the conclusion that this was terrorism. There were some officials in Egypt who seemed to leak information suggesting that what investigators were seeing with the human remains suggested that the plane was ripped apart. Other officials then jumped in and said, that is not a conclusion to draw. I mean, it sounds like a mess, in a way.

MACHERAS: Yeah, you know, here in Europe last March, we had the Germanwings crash, which turned out to be a result from pilot suicide. But when it did crash and the initial aftermath and the debris was analyzed, it was - well, you know, everybody was saying, it must be a bomb because, you know, there was nobody - no full kind of bodies, as graphic and as morbid as that is.

GREENE: You're saying that oftentimes when - we jump to conclusions way too early in disasters like this.

MACHERAS: Pretty much, yeah. So in that case, you know, there world's media was saying, well, this has got to be a bomb. And three days later, we heard the data from the black box and the cockpit voice recorder. And we heard that this was actually a captain struggling to get back into his flight deck. Meanwhile, the first officer in control was downing and descending the aircraft into the French Alps.

GREENE: We've been speaking to aviation analyst Alex Macheras. Thanks for joining us, as always. We appreciate it.

MACHERAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.