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France confirms smoke on EgyptAir plane



France's aviation safety agency said on Saturday that the EgyptAir A320 that crashed into the eastern Mediterranean with 66 people on board had transmitted automatic messages indicating smoke in the cabin.

"There were ACARS messages emitted by the plane indicating that there was smoke in the cabin shortly before data transmission broke off," a spokesman of France's Bureau of Investigations and Analysis told AFP, confirming earlier media reports.

ACARS, which stands for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, is a digital system that transmits short messages between aircraft and ground stations.

The spokesman said it was"far too soon to interpret and understand the cause of Thursday's accident as long as we have not found the wreckage or the flight data recorders."

The signals indicated there was smoke in the front toilets near the cockpit, an expert told AFP.

According to the specialised aviation website the Aviation Herald, the ACARS messages read"smoke lavatory smoke" then"avionics smoke" -- referring to the plane's electronic systems -- then a"fault" with the FCU, the pilots' flight control unit in the cockpit.

The warnings began about three minutes before air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 0029 GMT on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that automated warning messages indicated smoke in the nose of the aircraft and an apparent problem with the flight control system.

The messages indicated intense smoke in the front portion of the plane, specifically the lavatory and the equipment compartment beneath the cockpit. The error warnings also indicated that the flight control computer had malfunctioned, the report said.

Also Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said no theory on the cause of the crash has yet been ruled out, though Egypt's aviation minister has pointed to terrorism as more likely than technical failure.

"At this time... all theories are being examined and none is favoured," Ayrault told a news conference after meeting with around 100 relatives of passengers who were aboard the doomed flight.

"The reports circulating here and there, which by the way are sometimes contradictory, give rise too often to nearly definitive conclusions," he said, warning of the"painful tension" caused to the families of the victims.

The plane came down in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean, a source in the Egyptian-led investigation said. Another person familiar with Western naval estimates said the wreckage could be in waters 2,000 to 3,000 metres deep.

That would place the black box locator beacons, which last for 30 days, on the edge of their detectable range from the surface based on the type of acoustic equipment typically used during the first stages of a search, according to a report into the 2009 crash of an Air France jet in the Atlantic.

Crash investigators briefed the relatives on what is known so far and the procedures for establishing the cause.

"Methods and procedures for identifying the victims" were also explained to the families, Ayrault said.

The passengers included 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, two Iraqis, two Canadians, and citizens from Algeria, Belgium, Britain, Chad, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. They included a boy and two babies.

Seven crew members and three security personnel were also on board.

A representative for the families, Stephane Gicquel, said the meeting was held in"good conditions", adding that the families"certainly understand that the aftermath of this event will be complex and take time."

But he said some showed"impatience" over a lack of new information and a reticence over the ACARS messages, which Gicquel said were"confirmed reluctantly at the insistence of one family."

He added:"Obviously many families believe it was a terrorist attack."

On Friday, search teams found wreckage including seats and luggage about 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt's military said.

The plane disappeared off the radar without emitting any distress signal between the Greek island of Karpathos and the Egyptian coast.


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