Data retrieved from the damaged flight data recorder of ill-fated EgyptAir Flight MS804 has confirmed there was a fire on board moments before the crash but experts say a technical fault is likelier than a terrorist attack.
The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea in mid-June following a frantic search operation. Both of the black boxes, found 4,000m below the sea surface, were badly damaged.
Experts at French aviation accidents investigation bureau BEA managed to download the data from the damaged memory chips and submitted them to Egypian authorities for further analysis.
It has been revealed that the data obtained from the flight data recorder was consistent with messages from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which transmits basic information in real time via a satellite link.
"Recorded data is showing consistency with ACARS messages of lavatory and avionics smoke," Egypt's Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee said in a statement. "Preliminary information shows that the entire flight is recorded on the FDR since its take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport until the recording stopped at an altitude of 37,000 feet where the accident occurred."
Recovered wreckage from the jet's front section also showed signs of high temperature damage and soot, the committee said.
Although no cause of the accident has been ruled out, some industry insiders said a technical failure is a likelier scenario than a terrorist attack or sabotage.
The investigators will now perform more depth analysis of the wreckage as well as the flight data recorder information.
Recordings from the cockpit voice recorder have not yet been accessed. These recordings should reveal what was going on in the cockpit in the final minutes before the disaster and perhaps offer other clues, such as unusual noise from the plane’s engines.
The BEA is involved in the investigation because France is both the flight's point of origin and home to Airbus, the plane's manufacturer. Fifteen of those killed were French.
A United States National Transport Safety Board investigator is also involved, since the plane's engines were built by a consortium led by the US company Pratt & Whitney.
The Paris prosecutor's office opened a manslaughter investigation on Monday but said it was not looking into terrorism as a possible cause of the crash at this stage.
A search vessel contracted by the Egyptian government from Mauritius-based Deep Ocean Search is still searching the Mediterranean for human remains.
The crash, which took place on 19 May, killed all 66 people aboard the Airbus A320 en route from Paris to Cairo. It has been already the third serious incident affecting Egyptian aviation in less than a year. In October, a Russian plane crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 224 people on board. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. In March, an EgyptAir plane was hijacked by a man wearing a fake suicide belt. No one was hurt.