Investigators check Airbus engine for clues

Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (R) listens to rescue workers as he looks at the remains of a Russian airliner after it crashed in central Sinai near El Arish city, north Egypt, October 31, 2015.

Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (R) listens to rescue workers as he looks at the remains of a Russian airliner after it crashed in central Sinai near El Arish city, north Egypt, October 31, 2015.

Reuters
Local experts on the ground have come to a preliminary conclusion that the most likely cause of the crash of Kogalymavia Airbus A321, which killed 224 people, was an engine explosion. Russian experts believe the crash was more likely to have been caused by destruction of an engine followed by an explosive depressurization of the aircraft's fuselage.

An Egyptian newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm reported a new theory of the Russian plane crash, which happened over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31. Citing "sources in the commission of inquiry," the report on November 4 stated that the transcript of the "black boxes" offered evidence of an explosion in the engine.

Flight recorders did not record any emergency calls from the crew to dispatchers. However, according to the Egyptian sources, the "presence of a powerful explosion, simultaneous loss of all engine power, a fire in part of the fuselage and the destruction of part of the plane in the air” was evident.

The team of investigators and technical commission working at the crash site; experts from Egypt, Russia, France and Germany; the latter two as country producers of the Airbus aircraft, and Ireland, where the plane was registered; have not ruled out any of the initial theories.

A terrorist attack on board the flight, a fatal piloting error or a technical failure that resulted in the destruction of the aircraft in the air are all still being considered as possible reasons for the disaster. That the debris is spread over a vast area – 8x4 sq kilometres – also supports the theory that the Airbus A321 broke apart at a high altitude.

The British government, which is not involved directly in investigating the causes of the crash, acknowledges the possibility of a terrorist act. "While the investigation is still ongoing, we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed," the British prime minister’s office said. "But as more information has come to light, we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device."

Following this statement, all flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to Britain have been suspended, to allow time for British experts to assess their safety. According to British experts, authorities in the United Kingdom "never accept such measures and do not make such statements without sufficient grounds."

Russian experts close to the crash investigation believe it is too early to make preliminary conclusions. They claim the theory of the engine explosion does not look convincing at this point. According to them, the design of the engine is such that a relatively small amount of fuel-air mixture could not "assure" a powerful explosion that could lead to the destruction of the aircraft's fuselage. If the flight recorder's data does indicate a problem with the engine, then the theories would likely turn in that direction.

According to experts, in the case of a so-called non-localized destruction of a turbine its torn-off blades fly out with great speed and – moving towards the plane – could cut the liner's wing and fuselage like an angle grinder disc. The so-called explosive depressurization of the fuselage then takes place, which leads to the complete destruction of the aircraft. The fact that the flight recorders did not record any complaints of pilots to the ground crew before the accident would be quite understandable if the explosive depressurization of the cabin occurred because they would not have had time to react.

On the initiative of the Russian side, the search for the wreckage of the aircraft has been extended with the search area being expanded to 40 sq. km.

To establish the exact cause of the disaster experts will not only have to fully decode the data from the flight recorders, but also to collect all the debris to reassemble them in the hangar for careful inspection.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg authorities began to return the bodies of Airbus A321's passengers to relatives. The identification of victims of the disaster continued for a third day and as of now 39 people have been identified.

First published in Russian in Kommersant.

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