By Ben Schlappig

The cause of a plane crash nearly six years ago has recently been revealed with greater certainty, based on a newly published report.

Basics of the crash of EgyptAir flight 804

On May 16, 2016, EgyptAir flight MS804 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing all 66 people onboard, including 56 passengers and 10 crew members. The flight was operating from Paris (CDG) to Cairo (CAI) using an Airbus A320 when the accident took place.

Within days of the incident, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry claimed that the flight was probably attacked. The leading theory initially was that there was a bomb on the plane, as some officials claimed that monitoring equipment focused on the area detected evidence of an explosion onboard the aircraft. Furthermore, Egyptian authorities claimed that traces of explosives had been found on the bodies of some victims.

As more details started to be released, the more common theory was that there was a fire on the aircraft. That’s because in the minutes leading up to the crash, messages sent via ACARS (the aircraft reporting system) indicated that smoke was detected at the front of the jet, in the forward lavatory and avionics bay.

Well, there’s now an update…

EgyptAir crash caused by fire due to cigarette & oxygen mask

A new 134-page report by France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation (BEA) has concluded that the EgyptAir crash happened due to a pilot smoking in the cockpit:

  • Pilot Mohamed Said Shoukair smoked in the middle of the flight, which was actually allowed under EgyptAir’s rules at the time
  • His cigarette ignited oxygen that was leaking from an oxygen mask in the cockpit, causing a fire to break out
  • This has been determined based on black box data that captured the sound of the oxygen hissing
  • The oxygen mask had been replaced just three days before the crash by a maintenance worker, but for unknown reasons the release valve was set to the emergency position, which can lead to leaks

The reason this crash is still being investigated by French authorities is because it’s the subject of a manslaughter case being heard by the Paris Court of Appeals.

Egypt has refused to release its own report into the crash, and has dismissed the BEA’s findings as “unfounded.” Unfortunately Egyptian authorities don’t have a great track record when it comes to transparency and unbiased aircraft investigations. They also insist that the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990 was due a mechanical failure, rather than one of the pilots intentionally crashing the plane into the ground.

Bottom line

Nearly six years ago, an EgyptAir A320 crashed into the sea. While Egyptian authorities initially claimed it was due to terrorism, it pretty quickly became clear that there was a fire onboard.

A newly published report suggests that the cause of the crash was a fire that started when one of the pilots lit a cigarette, which ignited the oxygen leaking from an oxygen mask. That oxygen mask had been replaced just a few days prior prior to the flight, and wasn’t switched to the right setting.