French say cockpit fire likely caused 2016 EgyptAir crash, contradicting Egypt

PARIS – In rare criticism of another country’s crash probe, the French BEA air accident investigation agency said in a statement that authorities in Egypt had apparently not followed up calls for further investigations.

Egyptian officials had said traces of explosives were found on human remains retrieved from the crash, suggesting it was a malicious act.

“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,” the French statement said.

Twelve of those killed in the May 2016 crash were French nationals.

It is unusual for investigators to comment publicly on a case being led by their counterparts in another country. Any disagreement would usually be expressed confidentially, with public comments indicating serious divergences.

“The BEA 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,” the statement said.

It noted that Egyptian investigators had not published their final report, adding that the BEA was ready to resume work with Egyptian authorities if they were to resume work on the probe. International regulations stipulate a report should come out within a year of a crash.

EgyptAir and Egypt’s aviation ministry were not immediately available for comment on the case, which was handed to judicial authorities after the Egyptian assessment of the cause given in December 2016.

A person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “There are political differences between France and Egypt over this investigation.” The source declined to give further details.

France and Egypt have in the past disagreed over how crash investigations are handled.

After a bomb brought down a Metrojet plane carrying Russian holidaymakers home from the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board, Egyptian officials initially denied widely held suspicions that a bomb caused the crash.

Neither France nor the United States suspected a bomb in the EgyptAir crash, however.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Metrojet bomb, saying it smuggled aboard explosives in a soft drink can.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Tim Hepher, Eric Knecht; Editing by Alison Williams and Helen Popper)