On Saturday, Kogalymavia Flight 9268 crashed over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula just 20 minutes into its journey back to St. Petersburg. All 224 passengers and crew members on board, all of whom were Russian or Eastern European, were killed in the crash. Since Saturday, investigators from several different countries have arrived on the scene and both black boxes have been recovered, which could help speed up the search for answers. As of Monday, recovery efforts of the downed Russian plane were ongoing, though a full investigation could take months, according to Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi.
"This is a complicated matter and requires advanced technologies and broad investigations that could take months," Sisi said in a televised message Sunday.
Unfortunately, it seems like we've become all too familiar with the recovery process following a plane crash. Thanks to recent disasters like MH370, MH17, and Germanwings Flight 9525, we know what to look for: the black boxes, debris from the ground, and communications from the cockpit to air traffic controllers. Without these, particularly the black boxes and debris, it's nearly impossible to determine exactly what happened to a downed plane. Even with them, however, obtaining answers can still take on a lengthy and uncertain path.
Fortunately, first responders and investigators have recovered debris, both black boxes, and reports from air traffic controllers rather quickly this time around. The items and information recovered will hopefully lead to quicker answers for the victims' families, regulators, and concerned travelers around the world. Although it's still too early to have all the answers, the clues have begun rolling in.
As of Saturday night, Egypt had recovered both of the plane's black boxes from the wreckage. This timing is impressive and helpful, but not completely out of the ordinary, given the circumstances. Black boxes are designed to "ping," or send out signals once a second for about 30 days following a crash. In the recent MH17 crash, in which the plane was shot down in Ukrainian air space by a surface-to-air missile in July 2014, officials obtained the black boxes about four days after the crash — but Ukrainian rebels reportedly had been holding on to them prior to that.
Similarly, in the Germanwings 9525 crash in March, investigators found the first black box on the same day as the crash, but didn't find the second black box until about nine days later. Still, the fact that both black boxes were recovered on the day of the crash in Egypt seems like a promising sign for the recovery efforts and the determination of an exact cause.
About 150 bodies of the 224 crash victims were also recovered on the same day of the disaster. Discovering the victims' remains can bring some much-needed answers and closure to loved ones, but it can also provide clues to the cause of the crash. For instance, a local group in Egypt affiliated with ISIS tried to claim responsibility for the crash, but some experts have said that because many victims were found with their seat belts on, the signs from the scene suggest that something more internal was going on. If there had been a technical difficulty, for example, the pilot may have asked people to put their seat belts on to avoid bumpy conditions or prepare for an emergency landing.
Finally, air traffic control reports show that the Kogalymavia crew did not signal that anything was wrong during the flight. In other words, there was no call for help, no SOS, nothing, as far as air traffic controllers could tell.
While it's still too early to interpret all of these clues for certain, investigators from Russia, France, and Germany have taken on the job of sorting through whatever can be found in the ongoing investigation. Crash investigations can take anywhere from a matter of days to more than a year depending on complexity — in the Germanwings investigation, prosecutors determined the crash was deliberate just a few days after it happened, whereas the final report for MH17 did not come out until more than a year after it happened. Hopefully, the prevalence of clues from the scene of the Sinai Peninsula will make the investigation as smooth as possible.