Human remains retrieved from the crash site of EgyptAir Flight 804 suggest there was an explosion on board that may have brought down the aircraft in the east Mediterranean, a senior Egyptian forensics official said on Tuesday.
"The logical explanation is that an explosion brought it down," the official told The Associated Press.
The official, who is part of the Egyptian team investigating the crash that killed all 66 people on board the flight from Paris to Cairo early last Thursday, has personally examined the remains at a Cairo morgue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
All 80 pieces that have been brought to Cairo so far are small. "There isn't even a whole body part, like an arm or a head," said the official, adding that one piece was the left part of a head.
"But I cannot say what caused the blast," he said. He did not say whether traces of explosives were found on the human remains retrieved so far.
The expert's comments mark a new dramatic twist surrounding last week's crash, which still remains a mystery. The plane's black boxes have yet to be found and photographs of retrieved debris published by the Egyptian military over the weekend were not charred and appear to show no signs of fire.
Egyptian officials have said they believe terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure, or some other catastrophic event, and some aviation experts have said the erratic flight reported by the Greek defense minister suggests a bomb blast or a struggle in the cockpit.
As The Christian Science Monitor and other news outlets reported, data from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), an automatic reporting system, indicated a fire had started on board. French officials said that automated systems onboard the plane sent messages indicating smoke was filling the aircraft a few minutes before the fatal crash.
David Learmount, a consulting editor at Flightglobal, who analyzed the Airbus 320 fault warnings in his blog, writes that sensors indicate that a fire broke out first in the lavatory closest to the cockpit and a minute later smoke is recorded in the avionics bay, close to that same lavatory:
The question now is whether the fire that caused the smoke was the result of an electrical fault – for example a short-circuit caused by damaged wiring – or whether some form of explosive or incendiary device was used – for example by a terrorist – to generate a fire or other damage.
The fire appears to have propagated fast. Flight control computers were failing within two minutes of the avionics bay smoke warning. If more of them failed subsequently the pilots would have limited means for controlling the aircraft, and with fire present, crew stress would have been extremely high.
But so far no hard evidence has emerged on the cause of the disaster.
An independent Cairo daily, al-Watan, quoted an unnamed forensics official in its Tuesday edition as saying the plane blew up in midair — but that it has yet to be determined whether the blast was caused by the an explosive device or something else. The official further said the remains retrieved so far are "no larger than the size of a hand."
France's aviation accident investigation agency would not comment on anything involving the bodies or say whether any information has surfaced in the investigation to indicate an explosion.
In a search for clues, family members of the victims gave been arriving during the day Tuesday at the Cairo morgue forensics' department to give DNA samples to help identify the remains of their kin, a security official said. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Also, a technical team from Egypt's forensic medicine department went to a hotel near the Cairo International Airport where relatives of the victims are gathered to take DNA samples to use in identifying the bodies.
The EgyptAir crash shocked a nation struggling to revive its ailing economy and contain a resilient insurgency by Islamic militants.
Safety onboard Egyptian aircraft and at the country's airports have been under close international scrutiny since a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last October, killing all 224 people on board, shortly after taking off from an Egyptian resort. The crash — claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai and blamed by Moscow on an explosive device planted on board — decimated Egypt's lucrative tourism industry, which had already been battered by years of turmoil in the country.
If mechanical or structural failure is found to be behind the crash of Flight 804, that would deal another severe blow to both tourism and the national carrier. If downed by an act of terror, the Egyptians can point to security at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, from which the plane took off.
Egypt has dispatched a submarine to search for the flight's black boxes and a French ship joined the international effort to locate the wreckage and search for the plane's data recorders.
Ships and planes from Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece and the United States are also taking part in the search for the debris from the aircraft, including the black boxes.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.