Opinion: We Need to Stop Speculating on Plane Crashes Right After They Happen

An Egyptair Airbus A321, similar to the A320 reported lost within the last 24 hours. Photograph by Pieter van Marion, 2012.

It’s human nature to ask questions and to derive inferences from information we still haven’t fully processed mentally.  It’s also human nature to attempt to figure out resolutions and causes as a form of closure or simply a reasonable-enough explanation to something we can’t really explain just yet. But in the case of aircraft crashes, this absolutely has to stop, especially with Egyptair Flight MS 804.

The public speculation that arises after highly-publicized aviation incidents, over the years, tends to be unnecessary, fairly inaccurate, and overwhelmingly useless. In fact, it actually has a negative effect on aviation in general, at least with regards to public view and opinion. Most famously, the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014 caused news networks to go overboard with wall-to-wall coverage of the incident, featuring downright inane commentary on something newscasters (and a number of their expert witnesses) seemingly had no real knowledge of, due to the fact that the coverage began at the same time as the investigation, with the latter yet to produce solid facts and evidence on what they were looking into.


The prevailing theory at the moment is that terrorism was involved somehow with MS 804 going down, and let’s be fair- it is a valid guess. But that’s all it is… a guess. Nothing, based on the concrete facts that we do have at the moment, can be said about the loss of MS 804 except that the aircraft went down with all souls, and that a search and recovery effort is currently underway.

Here’s what we do know right now:

  • The lost aircraft assigned to Egyptair flight MS 804 was an Airbus A320, registration SU-GCC. The airliner was approximately 12.8 years old, according to Airfleets.net which maintains a list of registered aircraft and their history.
  • The flight originated at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and was scheduled to land at Cairo International Airport (CAI) approximately three hours later.
  • Sixty six passengers and crew were aboard MS 804, (56 passengers, 10 crew including three sky marshals).
  • Contact between the aircraft and controllers was lost approximately  173 miles from the Egyptian coastline.
  • Greek flight controllers lost contact with MS 804 while making the handoff from Greek air traffic control to Egyptian ATC. The aircraft was, by the point, ten miles into Egyptian airspace.
  • Soon after the aircraft entered Cairo-controlled airspace, it “swerved sharply” before diving from an altitude of around 37,000 feet into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • French President Francois Hollande confirmed that the aircraft was indeed considered to have crashed.
  • An emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was picked up by search and rescue teams in the general area of the crash. ELTs can be triggered by exposure to saltwater or by the force of a jarring impact.
  • Debris from the crash was found near the island of Crete.

Here’s what we know about the search and recovery efforts:

  • Greece has contributed a pair of transport aircraft, along with a frigate and a reconnaissance aircraft (possibly an Erieye EMB-145H maritime recon bird) to the search effort, and has placed Hellenic Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and a diesel-electric submarine  on standby to assist if necessary.
  • The Egyptian government launched a C-130 Hercules airlifter and a pair of F-16 Fighting Falcons for the initial search, and later deployed more aircraft and naval vessels as it became clearer that the aircraft had gone down.
  • A French Navy Dassault Falcon surveillance aircraft was re-tasked while on-mission to assist with search efforts, while a French naval vessel was made available to the search efforts, should the Egyptian government request it.
  • Commercial vessels transiting through the Mediterranean have also made themselves available for search and recovery assistance.
  • RFA Mounts Bay of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary was ordered to the site of the crash to assist.

What do all of these bullet points tell us?

They tell us that beyond the above, we don’t really know what happened, and that your conjecturing is just as sound as the next guy’s.

From the facts gathered so far (at least what has been released to the public), it can’t be said with any degree of certainty that MS 804 was lost as a result of terrorism. As sad as it is, aircraft have in the past been known to explode in-flight. In 1963, a lightning strike on Pan Am Flight 214 caused the the airliner’s fuel tanks to ignite while the aircraft was in a holding pattern to land in Baltimore, Maryland. Decades later, TWA Flight 800 blew up catastrophically twelve minutes after takeoff during its climb to cruising altitude in 1996, the result of a short circuit igniting fuel air vapors in the aircraft’s main fuel cells. No terrorism involved in either of those two incidents.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily rule out terrorism as the cause of the MS 804 loss. Undoubtedly, various groups might have already claimed responsibility for the incident, which comes seven months after the loss of Metrojet Flight 9268 near Housna, Egypt. Daesh (ISIS) would later claim responsibility for bombing the Airbus A321, resulting in the deaths of 224 passengers and crew. However, in that particular instance, the wreckage of the aircraft was reached fairly quickly, and explosive residue was found on fragments of the fallen airliner. Over two weeks later, the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) concluded that a bomb had brought down the jet, and the government of Egypt agreed in February of this year. In the case of MS 804, however, it is far too early to speculate on whether or not a terrorist attack was the cause  of the A320’s crash.

It’s definitely possible that the aircraft could have experienced a complete electrical failure, or that improper maintenance led to the demise of MS 804, or even that a bomb brought the plane down. But it’s also fairly unwise to propagate theories and unfounded rumors when the incident’s investigation is still in its opening stages. For now, it’s best that we leave the hypothesizing to the experts involved in figuring out what happened, and then proceed from there.

Should MS 804’s loss be the result of an accident due to human error or technical failure, the companies involved will have to own up to their shortcomings and will need to find ways to mitigate them. Should the loss be the result of terrorism, the world will have to double down on its efforts to keep terrorist nutjobs at bay.

I’d like to humbly ask all of you, including the rookie “aviation experts” who’ll undoubtedly be crawling out of the woodwork to proffer their wisdom and opinion, to take a minute to reflect on the loss of MS 804, say a prayer if that’s your thing, and to remember that in the aviation community, we’re all connected in some way or another, and we just lost a few of our own.

Blue skies and tailwinds, MS 804.

About Ian D'Costa (240 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

4 Comments on Opinion: We Need to Stop Speculating on Plane Crashes Right After They Happen

  1. Elroy Hilbert // May 19, 2016 at 12:07 // Reply



  2. Elroy Hilbert // May 19, 2016 at 12:08 // Reply

    Right on! One sometimes gets bruises jumping to conclusions.


  3. Or perhaps in certain cases, and where the known evidence is pretty overwhelming, people who make these assumptions (say, a certain candidate I assume you are not wanting to name) have access to information that others don’t. Just sayin’- he was right.


    • It’s still a pretty big assumption especially when the authorities that be haven’t yet had the chance to recover enough of the aircraft to conduct a forensic investigation. Do we know for sure that it’s terrorism? As much as I think it is the case, I’m extremely hesitant to say.


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