Saturday, May 21, 2016

Airborne Vehicles of Death

"If  you analyze the situation properly the possibility of having a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical [problem]."
Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy

"A major technical fault -- the explosion of a motor, for instance -- seems improbable. [The Airbus A320 was] relatively new [entering service in 2003]."
Gerard Feldzer, French aeronautics expert

"There are many events that can create this type of problem, even if it is very rare, whether a stall, depressurization, a technical event inside the structure of the plane that would see an ever greater fall rate, or obviously foul play."
"Engine failure would show a relatively low fall rate. Depressurization would show a much higher fall rate of around five to six thousand feet per minute. But obviously without this data it is difficult to provide credible scenarios."
Francois Suchel, French airline pilot
Graphic: The Washington Post

Whatever the cause, it will be of scant comfort to the families who have lost loved ones. There is nothing, no revelations as to cause and who might be responsible that could conceivably alleviate their bleak sense of loss. As for Egypt, that country was already in dire economic straits, while being militarily engaged in trying to stifle the attacks against its government, police, military and civilians, let alone protecting tourists from the atrocities perpetrated by Salafist militias, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups in the Sinai.

Patrick Calvar, head of France's domestic intelligence agency had just days earlier given warning that France was an especial target of the Islamic State looking for "new ways" in which to strike the French who are obviously in an insufficient state of terror despite given the past deadly attacks, to satisfy the Islamist jihadis. Egypt, as it happens, is another favourite target of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or as Egypt would prefer addressing them: "Daesh".

Flight MS804 was on a routine trip from Paris to Cairo. It went off course through circumstances beyond the current knowledge of any authorities; speculation is leading the way. The absence of data of which Francois Suchel spoke, in the event that the fuselage and flight recorder might be recovered, leaves only hypothesis; no tangible clues but ample recourse to speculation that terrorists may have targeted the Airbus A320. There is a relatively recent precedent, of course in the Russian airliner Metrojet exploding over Egypt.

The A320 itself is considered representative of the safest passenger planes in service. A safety analysis undertaken by Boeing in 2015 concluded that the A320 was known to have registered a mere 0.14 fatal accidents per million takeoffs. Worldwide, around four thousand A320s are in operation, one of the most popular planes in service around the world at the present time.  The location of the plane's descent into the Mediterranean has now been confirmed.

An intense search has discovered a seat, personal luggage and what is described as a "body part" reported to have been sighted. And according to the European Space Agency, a satellite  has detected what appears to be an oil slick in the same area, about 115 miles from the plane's last radar-tracked position, in a very deep area of the Mediterranean, with a seabed basin over ten thousand feet below the surface in areas and where strong currents may make it difficult to find the submerged wreckage.

And while the likeliest scenario involves terrorist activity, more likely a bomb placed aboard the jet, similar to what occurred  with the Metrojet airliner taking off from the Egyptian Sinai, the suspected agency, Daesh, usually swift to take credit for such atrocities, as evidence of their far-reaching bid for recognition as the world's premier terrorist group, has thus far remained silent even in the face of the general consensus that terrorism was the EgyptAir's likeliest cause of the crash.

What is beyond dispute is that 56 passengers and ten crew are presumed dead. A matter that raises attention toward airport security in Paris. Where, since the November terrorist attacks in Paris, security was heightened, particularly in the wake of the Brussels March airport bombing. Greater numbers of police were deployed at the Charles de Gaulle airport where EgyptAir flight MS804 departed from.

Airport staff and some baggage handlers were suspended or fired from their jobs, reflecting they had  come under suspicion as having links to radical Islam. Authorities are interviewing all airport and airline employees who might have accessed the plane or luggage before takeoff. If the plane, according to French aviation experts, was on the ground for only an hour or so before taking off for Cairo, it is conceivable it hadn't been fully inspected by Paris security.

So the possibility that a bomb could have been placed aboard before it reached the French capital has been posited by French airport authorities. Egyptian authorities, on the other hand, state that while in Paris, the EgyptAir plane had been thoroughly inspected by their own personnel. None of which stopped it from dropping over 22,000 feet, then spinning 360 degrees and finally spiralling into the Mediterranean on Thursday morning.

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