Egyptian officials said Wednesday that a French ship has detected pings presumed to be from EgyptAir 804's black boxes from deep under the Mediterranean Sea. The news will come as a big relief to investigators who were racing against the clock to find the boxes before their batteries depleted (they usually last about 30 days). The Airbus A320 plane crashed last month, killing all 66 people on board.
Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry referenced a report from the committee investigating the crash, which said the French vessel Laplace picked up the signal. Officials did not say when the signals were detected, but the French navy confirmed that the ship arrived to the search area Tuesday. The hunt for the black boxes was waiting on the Laplace, as it is equipped with special detection equipment used for underwater searches at significant depths — parts of the search area are as deep as 10,000 feet. The ship left its home port of Porto Vecchio, Corsica last Tuesday.
The search area had already been narrowed down to a three-mile area of the Mediterranean. Small pieces of wreckage and human remains have been found since the crash. Airbus also detected signals from the plane's emergency locator transmitter. This is different from the black boxes; the device automatically activates at impact during a crash, sending a distress signal. That helped narrow down the search area, which was previously described as "about the size of Connecticut."
On Sunday, it was reported that the total time to recover the black boxes would be about 12 days. The investigation team is awaiting the arrival of yet another ship which is able to retrieve the boxes from the seabed. The French and Egyptian investigation team has contracted a French company, Deep Ocean Search, to dive and recover the boxes with the help of a robot. The company's ship, John Lethbridge, left Ireland Saturday, and should arrive later this week.
The boxes should shed light on what caused the plane to crash. They hold both cockpit voice recordings and flight data. Previously-leaked flight data has pointed to smoke detectors going off in one of the plane's bathrooms and in an electronics bay, as well as problems with the cockpit windows, but that must be confirmed by the flight data recorder. Egyptian officials have said that terrorism is more likely than a mechanical failure, but so far, no terrorist group has claimed responsibility.
Changes in the international regulations on black boxes will be taking effect in 2018. Put in place after the two-year search for Air France 447's black boxes in the Atlantic, the new rules will require that black box batteries last at least 90 days. Some airlines have replaced their batteries ahead of schedule, but EgyptAir was not one of them. Since this crash, senior engineers at Airbus have also advocated for ejectable flight data recorders, which would make their recovery far easier. They would separate from the tail during an accident and float to the surface.
As for the EgyptAir investigation, the black boxes' recovery should finally begin to provide some answers.