France’s aircraft accident investigation unit, BEA, has voiced its differences with Egyptian authorities over the May 2016 crash of an EgyptAir Airbus A320 over the Mediterranean Sea.

All 66 people on board the Paris-Cairo flight died in the incident.

The BEA said the classification of the incident by Egyptian authorities as a crime means the accident investigation has effectively come to a halt.

The Egyptian authorities opened an accident investigation into the crash, with the BEA appointing a representative to represent France as the State of Design of the aircraft, assisted by technical advisers from Airbus.

In an announcement, issued July 7, the BEA noted it had provided assistance to its Egyptian counterparts and had retrieved information from the aircraft’s badly damaged flight recorders at its laboratories in France.

The aircraft systems had sent Aircraft Communications, Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) messages indicating the presence of smoke in the aircraft’s toilets and avionics bay, confirmed by retrieved information from the flight recorders, notably the cockpit voice recorders, which revealed the crew had mentioned the existence of an onboard fire; the ACARS and cockpit voice recorder information was  confirmed in statements published by the Egyptian authorities.

Based on this, plus other information, the BEA said it “considers that the most likely hypothesis is that a fire broke out in the cockpit while the aeroplane was flying at its cruise altitude and that the fire spread rapidly, resulting in the loss of control of the aeroplane.”

However, the BEA said, its Egyptian counterpart “announced in December 2016 the discovery of traces of explosive on human remains. It stated that, in accordance with Egyptian legislation, this finding led it to transfer the file to the Egyptian Attorney General who would from now on be responsible for carrying out the investigation.

“The BEA’s proposals concerning further work on the debris and recorded data were not, as far as the BEA knows, followed up. The technical elements of the investigation already collected by Egypt, including those provided by the BEA, are protected by the Egyptian judicial investigation.”

In an effort to continue the safety investigation aspect of the incident, the BEA met the Egyptian Attorney General in May 2018. “In this meeting, the Egyptian authorities explained that as it had been determined that there had been a malicious act, the investigation now fell within the sole jurisdiction of the judicial authorities.

“The BEA’s Egyptian counterpart did not publish the final report, which would have allowed the BEA to set out its differences of opinion as authorized by the international provisions.

“The BEA considers that it is necessary to have this final report in order to have the possibility of understanding the cause of the accident and to provide the aviation community with the safety lessons, which could prevent future accidents.”

The BEA said it still considers the most likely cause of the crash was the rapid spread of a fire “and would like investigations into this hypothesis to be continued in the interests of aviation safety.”

It was ready to continue its collaboration with its Egyptian counterpart “should the latter restart the safety investigation into this accident.”

Alan Dron