Is the Egypt Air MS804 Crash A Portend Of Things To Come

The mysterious disappearance of the EgyptAir Flight 804 flying from Paris to Cairo has once again brought into focus the issue of air safety.   With 66 passengers and crew members on board this is a huge tragedy.  Not withstanding the fact that air travel is one of the safest modes of travel, recent incidents have shaken passenger confidence to the core.

According to airlines expert the plane was at the safest point in its flight path cruising at 37000 feet and inside the Egyptian airspace.  Even more startling is the fact the plane swerved sharply in midair and then plunged to 22000 feet from 37000 feet before disappearing from the radar.

1.  Possible Location Of The Crash

Initial reports suggested that the EgyptAir plane MS804 crashed off the Greek island of Karpatho, according to available information.  Although Greek, Karpatho is in Egyptian airspace.  The south Agean island is 600 miles from the Egyptian coast.

Life jackets and possible wreckage were spotted later in the day at another location.  However, subsequently, EgyptAir refuted the wreckage being from the MS804 flight.

A picture of a life jacket initially believed to be from the ill-fated plane found floating

Location of the place from where some debris initially believed to be from the ill fated plane was recovered

2.  So What Is EgyptAir’s Track Record Of Aviation Safety?

Available information suggests that this is not the first time Egypt Air plane has bee involved in a crash. Here are significant events involving the airline or its subsidiaries since 1970.

January 1971; EgyptAir Comet4; SU-ALC; flight 844; Tripoli, Libya:  The aircraft, which was on a scheduled international flight from Algiers, Algeria to Tripoli, Libya, struck sand dunes four miles (6.4 km) from the runway during approach. All eight crew members and eight passengers were killed.

January 1971; EgyptAir DC9-32; YU-AHR; flight 763; Aden, Yemen:  The aircraft, which was on an international charter flight from Cairo, Egypt to Aden, Yemen struck an extinct volcano about seven kilometers from the arrival airport four miles from the runway during approach. Visibility at the time of the crash was below the airline’s minimum for a night landing at that airport. All nine crew members and 21 passengers were killed.

More about this incident.

29 January 1973; EgyptAir Ilyushin 18; SU-AOV; flight 741; near Nicosia, Cyprus: The aircraft, which was on a scheduled international flight from Cairo, Egypt to Nicosia, Cyprus, crashed into mountain during a night approach. All seven crew members and 30 passengers were killed.

More about this incident.

 25 December 1976; EgyptAir 707; SU-AXA; flight 864; Bangkok, Thailand: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Cairo, Egypt to Bangkok, Thailand. The aircraft crashed into a textile mill about two kilometers from the runway. All nine crew members and 43 passengers were killed. Also killed were 19 people on the ground.

23 November 1985; Egyptair 737-200; SU-AYH; flight 648; Valletta, Malta: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Athens, Greece to Cairo, Egypt, when the aircraft was hijacked. A security agent exchanged gunfire with the hijackers, and in the process the fuselage was punctured and the cabin depressurized. The aircraft then diverted to Malta. After several hours of negotiations, Egyptian troops stormed the aircraft. During the ensuing battle, the three hijackers threw several hand grenades. The aircraft was severely damaged by the explosions and fire. A total of two of the six crew members, two of the three hijackers, and 56 of the 89 passengers were killed.

More about this incident.

 10 June 1986; Air Sinai F27; SU-GAD; Cairo, Egypt: The aircraft was on a domestic flight from Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt, but had to return to the departure airport due to weather conditions at Alexandria. Shortly before landing in reduced visibility, the crew reportedly attempted a go-around maneuver, but lost control of the aircraft and crashed near the runway. All five crew members and 18 of the 21 passengers were killed.

31 October 1999; EgyptAir 767-300ER; SU-GAP; flight 990; Atlantic Ocean near Nantucket Island, MA:  Radar and radio contact with the aircraft was lost shortly after the aircraft departed JFK Airport in New York on a scheduled international flight from New York, NY to Cairo, Egypt. The aircraft crashed into the ocean about 60 miles (96 km) south of Nantucket Island. The NTSB determined that the aircraft departed from controlled flight and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean as a result of flight control inputs by the first officer. All 14 crew members and 203 passengers were killed.

22 February 2000; 767-300ER; SU-GAO; EgyptAir Harare, Zimbabwe: The aircraft was on an unscheduled international flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to Harare, Zimbabwe, and the crew was attempting a landing at night in bad weather with strong, gusting winds. The aircraft veered off to the right of the runway, then crossed back over and veered off the left side before the crew regained control and brought the aircraft to a stop on the runway. The aircraft sustained significant damage during the landing, including the separation of the left engine and pylon. None of the 17 crew members or 76 passengers were seriously injured.

7 May 2002; EgyptAir 737-500; SU-GBI; flight 843; near Tunis, Tunisia: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Cairo, Egypt to Tunis, Tunisia. The crew was attempting an approach reduced visibility conditions due to fog and sandstorms, and the aircraft crashed into high ground about 6 km from the arrival airport. Three of the six crew members and at 11 of the 56 passengers were killed.

29 July 2011; EgyptAir; 777-200ER; SU-GBP; flight 667; Cairo, Egypt:The aircraft was preparing to depart on a scheduled international flight from Cairo, Egypt to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While at the departure gate and during passenger boarding, an electrical fire broke out in an area beneath the cockpit. The passengers and crew were deplaned, and the fire was extinguished, but not before causing substantial damage to the aircraft.


3.  The other angle to this crash is the track record of the plane, Airbus itself.  

Here are the fatal Airbus crashes in the last 10 years.

2015: Metrojet A321-  Crashed in the Hasana area of central Sinai, Egypt. Fatalities: 224

2015: Germanwings A320-  Crashed in the French Alps. The German co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane, investigators said. Fatalities: 150

2014: AirAsia A320- Crashed in Indonesia in December 2014. Fatalities: 162

2010: Airblue A321- Crashed in the Margalla Hills near the Pakistani capital Islamabad in July 2010. Fatalities: 152

2010: Al Afriqiyah A330- Crashed at Tripoli airport. Fatalities: 103. Survivors: One 9-year-old boy

2009: Yemenia A310- Crashed in the Indian Ocean, minutes before it was due to land. Fatalities: 152. Survivors: One 14-year-old girl

2009: Air France A330- Crashed in the Atlantic during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Fatalities: 228

2007: TAM A320- Crashed into a warehouse at Sao Paulo airport. Fatalities: 199

2006: Russian A310- Crashed while trying to land in the city of Irkutsk in Siberia. Fatalities: 140

2006: Armavia A320- Crashed in Sochi, Russia in May 2006. Fatalities: 125


4.  What Do Aviation Experts Have To Say?

CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest: “Planes just do not fall out of the sky for no reason, particularly at 37,000 feet,” he said, noting the aircraft vanished while cruising — the safest part of the journey.

CNN aviation analyst Les Abend: He said there are three possibilities: an explosion, something nefarious or a stall situation. “We’re in the very early stages of the investigation. Any good accident investigator will tell you, just put on the brakes a little bit and let this thing unfold. The 360-degree turn, that seems very abrupt. It’s not something I would do in any major emergency unless I was losing control of the aircraft,” he said, referring to Greece’s assertion the aircraft swerved 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right before its descent.


5.  If This Is A Terrorist Act Then How Secure Are Other Airlines And Planes?

Information emerging from this incident seems to suggest that it was most likely an act of terrorism than a mechanical failure or a lapse on the part of the pilot.  If that be so then it would have a sweeping impact on other flights as well, which could be more vulnerable than what we have believed all along.

The EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean had flown to terror hotspots in Tunisia, Eritrea and Belgium in the days before the disaster, it has emerged.

The travel log of the Airbus A320 will likely form a major part of the investigation into the crash which experts say was most likely caused by a terror attack.

Internet site FlightRadar24 indicates the jet travelled to Tunis, Brussels and the Eritrean capital of Asmara in the two days before, leaving open the possibility that an explosive device could have been planted aboard prior to its arrival in France.

All destinations have been targeted by terror attacks or plagued by jihadist uprisings in recent months.

The repercussions of this incident are likely to be felt all over the globe with security tightening across the board and more and more uncertainty creeping into a mode of travel that was all along, perhaps the safest.




About the Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience across 24 countries.

Srinivasan R

Management Consultant at Independent Consultant